The meaning of Easter- in fuzzyfelt

The Christmas story has an easy sell – angels, a donkey, a baby, lambs and kings all make up an accessible story for children. (Never mind that the reality was family rejection, birth amidst squalor and social ostracism!) The challenge is making it more than a story.

But the Easter story struggles to get past the first hurdle. Cruelty, rejection, death don’t feature highly in many children’s plotlines, and even if you have explained the story, the question still hangs “But why did Jesus have to die?”

Faced with an array of small children, I struggled to find some way of capturing the totality, the completeness, the now and forever-ness of the cross and resurrection in a way that made relevant sense.

 

 

 

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On the story itself, I have always loved making Easter gardens. There is something about the beauty of using spring flowers and the fact that all the parts go back into the garden afterwards that really reflects the truth of the story. Here’s one we made a few years ago with pipe cleaner figures (they didn’t survive!) and a beautiful card made for the Easter gardens we made at a vineyard open day here.

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing everyone a very blessed and Happy Easter!

 

 

“Chasing after the wind”

Another post that came from a bedtime story. It is probably also on the line between profound truth and trite cliche. The image is in no way original – it appeared centuries ago in Psalm 1.

“A little tree grew on the edge of a copse on a hillside. From where it stood it could just a see the top of a small clump of trees on the other side of the hill.

There was always a breeze around the hillside. In springtime, it would whisk up the blossom from the rest of the copse and whirl their petals round to the little tree. And when the leaves came out, the wind brought the little tree the whispering of all the others branches.

The little tree would sigh to the wind: “I wish I grew in that clump of trees” she said. Their blossom is prettier, their branches sway together and more people come to sit in their shade.  “Yes”, said the wind. “Look at their petals I bring you; listen to their whispers. They are surely better and happier trees than you are. If only you were like them, then it would be your blossom that would dance with the others, and your whispers I would carry around the hill.” “I would so love that”, sighed the little tree.

One night, there was a storm. The rain flooded down the hillside and took with it some of the soil. In the morning the little tree found that all the swaying in the wind had wriggled one of its roots near the top of the soil. “Hurrah for the wind”, it thought. “It is helping me to get free.”  As it continued to bend and sway, the root came right up and the two on either side started to work their way out as well. The tree started to list to one side and the wind urged it on.

The next night there was another storm, and more of the soil was churned up. The little tree had really started to come away from the earth. It started to notice that its leaves  were fading  – the roots couldn’t draw up what they needed. The tree started to feel quite unwell. But the soil continued to move.

Later that day, the farmer who owned the hillside came up to inspect the damage. He went to the clump of trees first, and took down some of the intertwined branches muttering that there were “growing too close”. Then he came round the side of the hill where the little tree was.

“Little tree!”, he exclaimed, digging the roots back in again. “How will you ever grow fine blossom, strong branches and broad leaves, unless your roots are deep and strong? Don’t be swayed by the wind! It will only urge you on and on. Everything you need to flourish is right here; where I planted you. The wind is strong. When it whistles you must push your roots in more deeply or you will never be still long enough settle and grow.”

The storm had given the tree quite a shock. For a moment, it had felt what it was like to be really blown by the wind and feel its roots give way. And for a time afterwards, it still felt a bit unsteady. Every day it continued to feel the wind, even if it was just as a light breeze, taunting the tree with the sounds and smells from around the hillside. But the farmer kept coming back, securing the roots in a little more firmly each time. And over time, the tree learnt to brace itself against the wind, dig deep through its roots and draw up all the goodness it needed to blossom – just where it was.”

 

 

 

 

“I saw a bargain today”

As a child I thought shops made the things they sold. The idea that toys were made the other side of the world seemed outlandish. With online shopping it seems almost like magic. But, as Fairtrade Fortnight highlights, everything we buy is made and put together by real people, living real lives, every step of the way.

“I saw a bargain today”

A fabulous dress;
A pair of shoes:
Much cheaper online
How could I refuse?
Arriving tomorrow, at no extra cost.
I hurried to ‘click’, before it was lost.
But just as I hovered, I heard someone say
“Let me show you who paid for your bargain today”.

She showed me the fields where the cotton was grown;
And the pitiful payment the farmers took home.
She showed me the rivers where pesticides flow;
And the fields alongside them, where crops barely grow.

I covered my ears but I still heard her say:
“There are others who paid for your bargain today”

She showed me the factories away in the East,
Where shifts are the longest and wages the least.
She showed me the workers too scared to protest
As the contracts must follow the cheapest, not best.

I told her “Enough!” but I still heard her say:
“Yet others will pay for your bargain today.”

The packers from warehouses, too tired to stand;
The child breathing fumes from the couriers round;
The fish eating fibres washed down to the deep;
The families who live near the burning trash heap;

Then my children looked up and I heard them say:
“How long ’til we pay for your bargain today?”

I saw a bargain today.

 

More family poems…

In November, a new nephew arrived just a few weeks before his brothers 3rd birthday, so I wrote this for him about the new arrival.

My Baby Brother

I have a baby brother,
And he looks a bit like me.
Now my family is different
From how it used to be.

He’s soft and he’s wrinkly,
And he wriggles when you touch
And his eyes are small and crinkly
And sometimes don’t open much.

I can let him hold my finger
I can show him all his toys.
I think there’s some that I had
‘Cos they’re all for little boys.

But he’s always needing feeding
Or he’s doing a big poo,
And he has so many cuddles
When I want to have them too.

My Mummy’s still my Mummy
But she’s now his Mummy too,
So I can’t do all the things I want,
Or what we used to do.

But I know that he’ll get bigger
And there won’t be all the fuss;
And then with my little brother
There won’t just be me, but US!

And this one was for my niece who turned ten last year. She has very long, very lovely hair.

My Hair

Long hair; Blonde hair; How to wear my hair:
French plait? Dutch braid? Pony Tail?
Too staid.

Half up? Half down?
Triple plaits round the crown?
Fishtail? Pull through? Boho-style?
Who Knew?

Blonde hair, Long hair, Fab hair My Hair!

A Parkrun for Wildlife?

Sir David Attenborough made headlines at Davos last month with his interview with the Duke of Cambridge. His pitch was clear. The ecological problems we face spring from our disconnect from the natural world.

“There has never been a time that more people are out of touch with the natural world than as now”,  he said.

But he wasn’t just concerned with  problems on the macro scale. He spoke movingly about how the natural world is one of the greatest sources of delight, pleasure and beauty in the whole of the world, and that caring for it brings joy and enlightenment which is irreplaceable. If we lose sight of that, we lose a great source of joy.

There are all sorts of reasons why we have largely lost sight of this joy in the UK. And there are any number of problems on a national scale (such as mental health, obesity, loneliness) that show we need it more than ever. The urgent question for us now is how to reconnect?

The opportunities are there. Organisations like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts put on excellent activities. But they mainly take place (obviously) in places where there is wildlife, so you have to be interested in wildlife before you go. Perhaps the biggest conservation attempt nationally is the Big Garden Birdwatch, that took place this weekend. But, because it takes place in your garden, you have to want to do it before you do it. September’s March for Wildlife made an important statement, but it brought together those who cared already.

Reconnection means reaching out on a much bigger scale. We need something that engages people for all sorts of different reasons, and in the process, reconnects them with their everyday natural world. Something as public, accessible and ubiquitous as Parkrun, something that can become as much of an institution as the Brownies and as sociable as watching major sporting matches. For the sake of argument, call it ‘Park-life’.

What if  ‘Park-life’ took place at the weekend, in public recreational areas, offering families, individuals or groups of friends the chance to participate together? What if it was accessible for all members of the community? What if it had a simple, replicable format; perhaps something to observe, something to learn and something to do? What if it was done hand in hand with the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB whose brilliant activities are already there waiting to be scaled up? What if, like the Brownies and the RSPB, there were different badges or awards you could earn? What if it enabled management of our public spaces so that wildlife could flourish?

‘Park-life’ has a lot to learn from Parkrun. The whole UK Wildlife Trusts together ran c. 10,000 events in the UK in 2018. A conservative estimate would put the number of Parkruns at double that. Its success is astonishing (from 13 runners in 2004 to 5 million in 2018) and it deserves massive credit. Perhaps its most significant success is the fact that the events are volunteer-run – utterly bucking the trend that most organisations are finding it harder and harder to find volunteers. If the set-up is right, people will want to do it.

Building the health and happiness of a community, as Parkrun has set out to do, is an important and admirable goal. But their formula for their success could be used more widely. What if someone like Sir David or the Duke of Cambridge spearheaded a major national initiative, in our parks and open spaces, that helps to reconnect us with the natural world.

Perhaps then we might understand and nurture the wildlife we still have; we might build a constituency of citizens wanting policies that protect the natural world; we might prevent ourselves from continually dealing with greater and greater consequences of our disconnect. And, most of all, we would rediscover that joy and wonder at our incredible world.

 

 

The Battle for the Brownie

I watched Incredibles 2 over the holidays. What a great film! And how amazing that they could so perfectly capture my toddler’s tantrums without ever having met her! My children might not have super powers but they certainly have different identities. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground, or average day. They are either brilliant or dreadful. This is not an original observation. We used to say that they both lived up to the curls in the middle of their foreheads, as the nursery rhyme goes.

So this poem was prompted by my 7 year old who, soon after starting Brownies, stormed into the house one evening declaring she couldn’t be a Brownie and announced she was a Frownie. And proceeded to be one all evening! I don’t think she’s the only one.

Brownie or Frownie?

I have just joined the Brownies: It’s all very cool
With the badges and toadstools and hoodies and all,
There’s Snowy and Brown Owl who tell us what’s what
And games where you all take a name from a hat.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie, that’s me!
And it’s all going to be such a fun thing to be!

Now at Brownies we learned we should all lend a hand;
To do a good turn and to share the things round;
To think first of others before of ourselves
And to help out at home like we’re true little elves.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie, that’s me!
What a perfectly lovely and good thing to be!

So I tried it at home when I cam back from school
But at teatime I felt not a Brownie at all.
Why should I do dishes instead of just play
After all, I’d been working at school all the day.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie that’s me.
But it’s not always easy a Brownie to be.

So I stomped up the stairs and I went to my bed.
And d’you know what was running around in my head?
Am I really a Brownie if I stamp and shout?
Or is there a Frownie that needs letting out.
Am I Brownie or Frownie? A puzzle, that’s me
Cos I don’t always know which one I want to be.

When Frownie says “Yes” then the Brownie says “No”
But I can’t seem to stop when the Frownie says “Go!”
When Frownie’s in charge then it makes people sad
Then when I’m a Brownie I feel really bad.
I’m a Frownie, I guess I’m a Frownie that’s me.
But I’m really not sure it’s who I want to be.

Now at Brownies we learn we don’t do things alone
And I know that the Frownie won’t go on it’s own
It might need a cuddle, to chase it away,
And help win the battle for Brownie to stay.
If it’s Brownie or Frownie, it’s Brownie for me
But I need you to love me, whichever you see!

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas letter….of sorts

Christmas letters can be like facebook: You see the photos; read the update and feel different reactions. For some, you enjoy the connection with someone you haven’t seen for a while and its good to know what they are doing. With others you wonder what lies behind the idyllic family pictures. And with a few you know the inside track; perhaps you helped mop up the tears on the holiday, or helped agonise over a decision that, from reading the letter, you would think was all straightforward.

We tell ourselves and our children that who we are is more important than what we do; that success and status count less than people and relationships; and that it’s ok to go through hard times. But we still live in a society that prizes wealth, activity and institutional position; that rewards things that get you noticed and ‘liked’. It’s rare to hear much discussion in the media of what builds ‘character’, or what it means to live a good life. I feel that without that grounding we seem to be in a bit of a tailspin about what our lives are for, and its reflected in the national state of our mental health. So, in a world where ‘”Its time to talk”, perhaps it’s time to be more honest with ourselves and our friends about how our experiences of the last year have really felt.

This post is my Christmas letter…of sorts. It’s a bit circumspect as this is a public blog. And I appreciate that the line between authenticity and self-indulgence is an easy one to cross. You can be the judge.

“Our greatest achievement this year has been an improvement in our family’s ability to kick about at home; to understand what each of us needs in terms of space, activity and downtime, and to be generous about allowing it for each other. It doesn’t always work, but it is getting better. One day, we may even be on time for church.

My daughters (7 and 2), have become much better at playing together: Dens, camping, lions, princesses etc. Normally they want to include each other. Normally they are happy with half of my lap each, and sometimes they interact beautifully and make each other giggle. Other times they yell and scream at each other. I find it astonishing how quickly, particularly in the holidays, my overwhelming sense can go from “this is fine, why don’t I home school, what’s the problem?” to “If I see my child do anything or hear them say anything. Anything at all, I think I will scream”. The most useful phrase we’ve found as a family is “I’m sorry. And sorry means I will try not to do it again” and the most helpful thing I’ve seen is a lecture by Jennifer Kolari on CALM parenting. It’s long but I’d thoroughly recommend it.

My eldest daughter is learning to control her feelings better and is less prone to tantrums. She managed the discipline to finish a story and enter it into a competition and then manage the inevitable disappointment of not winning. But she is still writing stories. She keeps me on my toes when her toys act them out “Mummy, I don’t mean to be rude but are you paying attention to your cue” and her expectation is that Father Christmas, who is magic and can do anything, will be able to bring her a doll, complete with clothes, cot and teddy; not for her, but for her toy panda. She is mocked at school for being small and whilst it makes her reluctant to go, she is being fairly resilient.

My toddler is trying to rule the roost as toddlers do. She knows her mind: “Mummy nuff swim. Ice cream now please”. I am not allowed to hum, for fear of being told “Mummy, open your mouth; sing nicely”. If she wants a book read once, she will want it 20 times in the next few days. She is often very pleased with herself; her most frequent phrase is “I’m doing really well” or recently “I’m doing brilliantly”. Woe betide your breakfast if you come and stay – she will stand next to your chair ready with her spoon to dig in. That is, when she isn’t suffering from a winter illness that seems to have been constant. After a few nights of shouting (by her) for an hour in the middle of the night, I confess I struggle to maintain family calm.

For me, I have had a bit of time at home to read, pray and write. Without that time in the school holidays, I recognise I get irritable and lose perspective.  I have to accept there is always less time than I would like and my first free morning is normally spent sleeping (I appreciate that’s a luxury but it still seems the best investment in building resilience!). With regard to the blog, I don’t check thefigures or dwell on it as furiously as I used to. With each post I still go through a cycle of getting the idea, thinking it’s brilliant, start to write it down and realise it’s much more challenging, and then rushing to get it finished, panicking no one will read it and then moving on. I keep reminding myself that I don’t want it to take off as a thing but it’s a useful way to see reactions to particular ideas.

The playgroup that meets here each week gives me great joy. I aim for it to be an amalgam of all the best aspects of the different groups I went to in the UK and after a year, it is starting to feel like a real community. Almost the best moment was last week when I needed to take some time out with my toddler – and everything carried on regardless. As my friends remind me when they come to visit, our house and my life here feels a world away from the part-time London commute I will return to, and I am quite apprehensive about that. But for now, it’s good to use the space and time.

In the summer, my husband and I went away to celebrate my 40th birthday which proved he was more than capable of romantic gestures. We are getting better with each other about trying to be kind, rather than right. I am managing to anticipate stress points better, and recognise what I am likely to feel. However, I don’t always manage to manage what I feel in the stress points. That’s one of the challenges for 2019.”

So that reflects some of my preoccupations for 2018. Perhaps it is as smug in a different way: Perhaps it still conceals as much as it reveals. Frankly, Christmas leters are a declining breed. But even if not through this medium I do think we should be prepared to talk as much and as concretely about what we say really matters as about any external achievement.

Finally, I wanted to appreciate anyone who has taken the time to read any of my posts in 2018 and I wish everyone a very joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

The church and climate change

I have been wondering about why, despite the facts, are we not seeing a strong, distinctively Christian response to climate change? Perhaps our sense is that that the problem is so vast and so intractable, we acknowledge it is important, but focus our limited time and energy on where we see more of a connection between what we do and the outcome. Christians are not alone in that. It feels like much of the rest of the world is doing the same. So here are some thoughts about how we might think about it differently. I am not claiming anything original or definitive. I am sure there is lots out there.

My growing feeling is that every year we don’t act, we not only exacerbate the physical problems but I think we also miss the point. We can’t pursue our individual relationship with God without reference to the bigger picture. God’s heart and vision is for the whole world to be redeemed and restored. His Kingdom is where all people live in harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbour and with creation (credit to Tearfund for the four relationships). In our broken world, our job be part of his work to bring about wholeness in ALL of these relationships, and all of them are interdependent. If we are not in harmony with our neighbour or creation, we can’t be at peace with God. When we share the ‘peace’ before taking communion, we symbolise that we know our relationship with our neighbour is important. But, in a reflection of our society and culture, the church along with everyone else, has taken creation for granted and it has not been a big part of the story. Now we are being given a wake-up call.

At it’s heart, climate change is a symptom of the broken relationship between people and creation. It has resulted from an arrogance that says we don’t need the natural world other than for our own exploitation; we can insulate ourselves from the seasons, consume only according to our taste and convenience, engage with wildlife only as a tourist, and experience distance only as a change in time zone. Climate change proves that to be the biggest lie of our time, as our children and their children’s generations will find out to their cost. In contrast, the Biblical picture of our relationship with creation is one of wise stewardship, of awe and reverence towards the way in which God’s power, majesty and creativity are displayed. (This is a much bigger theme in it’s own right and is well described in Tearfunds “The Restorative Economy” report from 2015.)

Not only does our arrogance towards creation have a catastrophic effect on the natural world, it also breaks our relationships with our neighbours. Air pollution, rising sea levels, changing rainfall, desertification, water scarcity are all problems from which we in the UK are relatively protected but are proving life and death issues for our neighbours in poorer countries. Ruth Valerio argues passionately in ‘Just Living’ that we cannot claim to love our neighbour whilst living unsustainably. In the past we might have been less aware of the consequences. Now we cannot pretend to be anything other than wilfully blind to them.

And our broken relationship with creation also affects our relationship with ourselves. Not only are we dependent on the natural world for our life support systems as a species, but also our personal wellbeing is profoundly affected by our relationship with nature. It seems like a statment of the totally obvious, that we feel better in ourselves when we experience the natural world. But yet, our society seems to be doing its best to live counter-productively. Even the way we talk of it as ‘the environment’ posits the natural world as something separate rather than something integrated.

So if our broken relationship with creation destroys the natural world, hurts our neighbour and undermines our personal wellbeing it is of core relevance to our relationships with God, not an optional additional ‘issue’ or ‘outreach’, for Christians with a particular interest. God cares passionately about it and so should we. There shouldn’t need to be EcoChurch, we should just have Church.

So then the question is what next? If it’s core to our faith, it can’t be a question of adopt ‘meatless mondays’, tick that box and move on. Like giving financially, it’s not something we should do out of guilt. Our passion to see the wholeness and harmony of God’s Kingdom on earth needs to change our worldview and how we make decisions, how we spend our time, what we buy, what we mean by living, sacrificially. There is plenty of advice out there on how to live more sustainably or call for broader change. What’s lacking is not the ‘how’ or the ‘what’, it’s the impetus to do it. Yes it will be inconvenient and counter cultural, so we wont do it unless we get inside the way God sees it. And we didn’t sign up for an easy life, right?

As a post-script,  I can’t have been the only Christian to have watched Amazing Grace in 2006 and wondered what was the equivalent struggle in our age to anti-slavery in the 19th century; where passionate advocacy and commitment by Christians, as a result of their faith, could make a real impact in rectifying a deep wrong. Surely there is no systemic injustice underpinning our economy and society that is more pressing and more fundamental for our generation than climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

Beanbag Parenting

Recently, I have felt like a beanbag for my children. The shape I am in doesn’t matter; what matters is that I can make them comfortable and provide support, regardless of how angular their elbows or how heavily they are feeling the weight of the world. You don’t think about beanbags. You just need them to be there so you can throw yourself on them.

As well as being a constant assault on the senses, I have always thought that children live by the law “I am awake, therefore I make mess, need feeding and create laundry”. Which is why, whilst Inuit famously have 19 words for snow, mothers should have at least 19 different words for exhaustion. But, whilst it’s immensely frustrating, having your incessant, daily provision for their needs so utterly taken for granted is in some ways a privilege.

They can’t live their lives on the beanbag – growing older needs to bring with it a greater recognition of the mechanics of life. And you can’t let them take you for granted forever.

I started to try and express this in a poem. Then I realised that mothers weren’t the first to feel this way…

My Child

Your children do not see you are the ground beneath their feet.
Their window on the world, they look through you to those they meet.
They notice your provision only when it might fall short,
And thrash out all their feelings without giving yours a thought.

But underneath their feet is where you catch them when they fall,
They see life with their minds framed by your worldview on it all.
They carry something with them of your forethought every hour,
And your secure embrace is what they need to grow and flower.

‘My Child, let my Divine love be the rock on which you stand,
Your needs are met through all that was created by My hand.
There’s nothing you can say or do to lessen My embrace.
The love you bear your children is an echo of My grace.

So be their rock and comfort, be their guide and compass too,
And lead them daily in My love, and you will point them true.’

 

 

 

The unintended consequences of ‘free’ gifts

The scale of our unintentional consumption is terrifying. I realised this recently when the school requested odd bits of plastic and recycling for an art project. I haven’t dared to ask what will happen to them, but took the chance to amass some bulging bags of bits that I won’t throw away and can’t recycle, some of which I probably moved across the continent with us, but for which I will never have any use.

What was revealing was how much of it I never wanted in the first place. Some was included ‘free’ for my convenience – plastic scoops that came with every packet of powder or individual craft-kit paint/glue containers. Then there were the ‘free’ toys from magazines or party bags/cafe lunches that you can’t refuse. And most ironically, there were the ubiquitous ‘free’ plastic wrist bands given out to help a cause.  All these items may have come into my house at no financial cost to me. But in no way are they ‘free’.

In fact, I’ve started to realise that anything you are given comes with an implicit statement from the giver.

“A part our planet has been used to make this item. I am now choosing to make it your responsibility to use, store and dispose of it. I consider that the goodwill I am buying from you is worth the planetary resource it took to make the gift.”

And when we accept the ‘gift’ for fear of looking awkward, or rude, we are implicitly agreeing with that judgement. We then use it, store it and dispose of it at cost to our own time and conscience. Frankly, thats often enough of a pain in itself.

But the cost is far more than that. Without meaning to, and with no evil mastermind of malicious intent, we are now in the situation reflected in recent reports by WWF and others: The unintended consequence of our desire to generate goodwill and convenience is to destroy our natural world and to create huge volumes of indestructible waste.

Madeleine de l’Engle, author of the classic “A Wrinkle in Time”, tells this story in one of her memoirs: “A science-fiction story tells of a machine that was invented that could produce everything needed for man’s comfort on earth: food and furniture; refrigerators and radio; clothes and cars. There were a few wise men who warned people that one cannot continually take without putting back, or the supply will be depleted, but they were laughed at. After several centuries of the machine giving freedom from all material want, schools were teaching that the old myth that the earth was once larger than the moon was rank superstition. And at the end of the story there is one toothless old man clinging to a tiny and depleted fragment of earth.” (A Circle of Quiet p209)

I am not pretending that we are taking the atoms that make tigers, dolphins and bees and turning them into plastic tat. But frankly, we might as well be. It is one thing to exploit resources to sustain livelihoods. It is quite another to abuse them for no good reason. There is no question it is awkward to refuse stuff. Last week I had to apologise profusely when returning a halloween bag that came home ‘free’ from nursery. But we have to start somewhere.

We all know the value of our natural world is rarely reflected in the price we pay. Let’s start saying no to ‘free’ gifts that are costing the earth.