Would you like the number of my cleaner?

Just kidding, I don’t have one, but I’d definitely pass their number out if I did and they were good! And I’d get rid of them if they weren’t any good. 

So, is this the most sickeningly middle class blog post I’ve ever made? Possibly, but gimme a sec. 

I’ve discussed the ‘issue’ of cleaners and food delivery services with various people at various times, and there is a lot of guilt out there! 

One of my dear friends had cleaners every fortnight and I was SO GLAD for her! She worked really hard all day, and then on into extra hours and also participating really fully in her church community. She lived alone, and, as I’m sure you can understand, keeping on top of cleaning and cooking for herself in the midst of all this was a bit of a headache. And she had money. She gave to church and charity, wisely saved and wasn’t indulgent, why not spend money on something that almost every previous generation of Westerners wouldn’t question and what many other cultures see as a normal part of life? 

In fact, certainly in our past, but also in other cultures now, it’s seen as somehow selfish and ungrateful if you have the income to employ ‘help’ but don’t. And having been in that side of the coin, being the help, I’ve really needed the money and have been grateful people were happy to have me in their home and taking care of their children. Their employment of me has kept me in food and shelter. 

So where does the guilt come from? 

Is it guilt at having that much money? 

Ok, y so you’ve been entrusted with this income, what’re you gonna do with it? Is spending it on semi-skilled labour any better or worse than the other options? Which will include what? Saving for holidays…? Buying a fancy car? Or providing employment for people which will help your household function well and driving a slightly crappier car because seriously, having a cleaner is more useful?

Maybe it’s guilt at the idea that you should be able to do it all? 

NO ONE has EVER done it all!! Seriously! 

Ok so, you grew up without servants, well surprise, your family had gadgets instead, which are supposed to help but usually don’t. Running a household is TOUGH especially if you want to actually spend time with your family as well as keep everything clean. So, it’s not a surprise we’re always looking for help of some kind. 

Now obviously this would be a ludicrous conversation to be having with people or families who don’t have enough income for shelter and food, but I know that like me, most of my readers can afford that and then some. So. Ponder where your guilt has come from and examine it. 

Also, think about what kind of help would help you most? 

Is it laundry that kills you? Ironing? 

Would your life run a bit more smoothly if you had someone in once a fortnight to vacuum, mop and dust? I know if it were me, that would be the only times such things occurred as frequently as that! 

Maybe instead of ordering semi-crappy take out three times a week cos you’re all exhausted, recognise that gap in your life and preorder food from a decent home delivery service that provides fresh food. 

If your pantry is already full of prepackaged, processed food because you have five minutes a day for cooking, recognise that you’re already spending a tonne of money on that and consider if it’s the best option. 

If a robot is already doing your vacuuming, you officially don’t have time to do it. 
Maybe just try it. If you find yourself wishing you had help with something, and you can, give it a go and see what happens. Maybe it does free you up to focus on what you’d like to. Or yes, it impacts other things financially but it’s worth it. Less money on coffee, more on not living in a cess-pit. 

My money is prioritised in other directions at the moment, but for most of the people I talk to about this, I love them, they work super hard (whether it’s paid or un-paid), the decision is not about ostentation but using their time and money well. I don’t begrudge them one minute of their fortnightly cleaner or ironing lady.

And if I have to go back to un/semi-skilled labour, I’ll be thankful for anyone who’ll pay me to do the above. 

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Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (gay Irishman).

It mostly happens with authors of non-fiction of course. I want to start talking to them. 

I can still remember reading the delightful Bill Bryson’s account of driving an ocean road and trying to remember the words to Waltzing Matilda. I so wish I could’ve done that trip of Australia with him, explaining as we went, including the fact that we enjoy making up alternate words for our songs, so rather than correct him, I would’ve wound down my window also and sung loud and crude. 

I mean, it’s a song about a suicidal thief anyways, it’s not quite a ballad of king and country. 

This impulse is worse when I listen to the author read his work. My audible addiction is mostly to biography, I particularly enjoy comedian’s accounts of themselves, but of course, Bryson’s works are just as fun and fascinating. 

Through biography, almost more than simple ‘objective’ historical narrative, you can understand and gain insight into what being middle class in England in the sixties actually meant. I grow to understand more cultural references on current television, by hearing authors explain what their favourite childhood television shows involved. 

And when you stumble on a good one, a thinker, someone taking a broad sweep, not just narrating their individual experiences, it is FASCINATING. 

Recently I finished listening to Graham Norton read his The Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir and therefore gained a great deal of insight into Norton, of course, but also, through his eyes, growing up Protestant in the very Catholic south of Ireland, the impact of AIDS on the gay community in the 80s and 90s, and the change Ireland has undergone in the second half of the twentieth century. SO INTERESTING!

And it makes me want to talk to him. I feel friendly now. Half the problem of celebrity I suppose, people feel like they know you! 

I want to say, “I admire your work ethic. I feel like that’s a large part of what’s kept you grounded all these years, through the celebrity, and means you very much still understand the lives of non-celebs as well.” AND I want to say, after viewing a recent Ep of his show, “what was with the beard Graham?!” It’s not that I don’t like beards, far from it, but it was such an unexpected place to see one! 

My dad has been clean shaven all the time I’ve known him, so it’s just how I see him, and how his face should look to me. So much so, that for years, whenever I’d opened the family albums, I’d seen a photo of him with a bunch of people at his little brothers wedding and never realised it was him! For about 25 years! He had a great big bushy beard and I’d never picked it as him. 

So it was a surprise to see Graham up in the audience he loves, sporting a grizzly, grey fuzz, well manicured of course, but surprising. 

I’d also want to ask him if he’d seen the film Calvary, and if so, what’d he thought?
I love the movie, am overwhelmed and shocked and provoked by it every time I watch it. And inspired. Saddened. Given hope. 

It’s an appropriately named film. 

But I want to know what Graham would think. He’s Irish, has felt the change increased travel and technology has brought to his culture, and yet, would recognise the occasionally suffocating atmosphere of small community. 

What would he think of this encounter with a good priest, who receives all the hatred, vitriol and punishment meant for the bad ones. 

Would he see how far the condemnation of abuse of has changed things, but for the worse as well as the good…?  

I think Graham’s insights would be very interesting, and particularly open up the Irishness of the film to me properly. I watch it as an outsider, and, as Graham would point out, he does too, being brought up Protestant. But he knows, and sees, and feels the response of his countrymen in a way I never can. 

The story isn’t just Irish though. It’s a story for everywhere, and for everyone. It represents and reenacts and reflects on the greatest swap there’s ever been in history. All the injustice and hope of it. 

Graham explains several times that he doesn’t believe in God, and, as is so often the case, I don’t believe in the God he doesn’t believe in either. 

Partly Graham’s unbelief (disbelief?) is down to a familiarity with, not just a comprehension of, the suffering that plagues human life. You can tell he loves his family and friends, and extends to others the same compassionate recognition, and so, in seeing people “senselessly” suffer, he recognises there’s a problem. 

He just makes the mistake most do of assigning the problem to the wrong origin, and the wrong rectifier. He is like the dad in the movie, who, having lost his little girl, sees her walking down the road with a priest – egad! And flings hate at him while ‘rescuing’ his daughter from this terrible situation. 

By this point, the viewer knows James, the priest, very well. Most would observe that he thoughtfully remains on the opposite side of the lane to her, hands in his pockets. And that his questions to her reflect the fact that he’s concerned for her welfare, without in the least alarming her. He doesn’t recognise the child, and it’s therefore strange to find her wandering the lanes alone. He’s probably going to find out where she’s wandered from, where she should be, and return her to the best place for her. But his actions are mistook, misread, because of the vile mess we make and are victims of. And so the offer of help is rejected. 

I’d like to hear what Graham thinks of the movie, because I’d love to see if it expose his own misconceptions to him, just a little, and what he wants to do with that. 

I’d like to hear the next chapter. 

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

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How to be a super awesome lobby group, yay!

In the spirit of Mungo MacCallum, but with none of his style, here’s some tips for the aspiring Lobby Group or Minor Political Party Director on how to be super awesome. 

1. Make it clear to your supporters and anyone else who’ll listen that when governments or whichever group you’re pressuring/threatening responds to your wishes, they are making a sensible, measured decision in the interests of the people. BUT, whenever they respond to your opposition, make sure people know the government is spineless and are responding in a knee-jerk fashion to powerful but shadowy figures who don’t represent the average punter. The evil bastards! 

2. Whenever you use an expert opinion, make sure no one figures out too quickly that though they may be an expert, they’re not actually speaking on their field of expertise. A classic eg is Richard Dawkins, the biologist, discussing philosophy, theology and literature. I’m sure you can think of more examples. 

3. Make sure your press releases are eminently copy-able. After all, journalists are busy, hungry creatures, and sub editors just need to fill in the space between ads. They’ll suck up any content you feed them, especially if you make it seem like you’ve done the fact checking already. That way they can just whack it in. 

4. Take a leaf from the instruction book of great leaders and appeal to whichever emotional lever you can find. John Howard appealed to our occasionally latent patriotism with his characterisation of refugees as some sort of invasion, Hitler made it clear the Jews were responsible for every bad thing which ever happened in Germany, you can do likewise. Make it seem like children are threatened, or that those shadowy figures are out to steal everything good about television, or some other equally beloved treasure. The mouth frothers will join you immediately. 

Of course, this is just the beginning, stoop lower and further greatness awaits you. 

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Mother’s Day

This is an old post of mine from my other long-standing blog heartbeatpoecy 

I’ve thought about importing that blog to here as well and closing it, but I’ve decided to let it stand as an artifact of bad poetry. 

This was my Mother’s Day post there from 2012.

Mother’s Day

Every mothers mothers mother’s made mistakes.

Frowns, beatings, disappointments, frozen heartaches.
Emotional shutdowns, fire words,
warring jealousies, cold grudges.

Wounds nursed not just for lifetimes,
but generations,
blood passed, mother to daughter,
bruises repeated, one to another.

77 times, and 77 times more.
Forgive, forgive, forgive,
clasp hand to breast.
Swallow the poison again and again,
vomit it up,
get rid of the gall.
Spew out the bile on Jesus’
bare, anointed feet.
Wash off with tears,
and then,
repeat. 

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What do you think about divorce? 

Best talk on divorce I’ve heard yet. And yes, of course that means I agree with it ;-P

However, I think this perspective makes the best coherent sense of the disparate passages and resounds with the character of a God who is pulling best out of a dreadful situation.

I especially agree with Mike’s opening remarks regarding the shame we should feel in Christian culture that we are not seen as a place of refuge for the divorced, and I frequently experience this just in our inability to talk about it!

So, have a listen, agree, disagree, but I hope it’s a stimulating thought on a topic the deeply affects our whole society.

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Why celebrate Mother’s Day at church?

Some of us have pretty terrible mothers. Some of us desperately wish we were mother’s but aren’t. Some of us wish every day that we could give our mum a call, but it’s been a long time since her funeral and she’s not going to answer the phone.

So isn’t Mother’s Day just too hard? Surely there are more people sad than happy and it’s all tokenism and cliched versions of femininity so can’t we just ignore it?

Even though I’m a childless, single woman, 49 days from her 30th birthday, I love Mother’s Day, and I think not only is it important not to be ambivalent about Mother’s Day but to embrace it and do it well in church.

Here are 3 reasons why I love it, and I have 3 suggestions about how to do it well.

Why do I love Mother’s Day?

1. I have a mother. So do you. Even if she’s no longer with you, or you don’t speak to one another, you have a mother.

Let’s just ponder that for a moment… Even if, like in the film Perfume, all your mother did for you was pop you out and cut the cord, she experienced 9 months of irreversible biological change to make you. In a perfect combination of vulnerability and strength, she provided everything you needed to become a you. The bacteria in your gut, the blood in your veins, your receding hairline, she gave all that to you.

And this is God’s plan. He designed the process this way, and there is so much wisdom in it. In the act of motherhood across the species, in the variations and the similarities, there is this incredible process of gestation and care which forces us to acknowledge that we are not monoliths.

It doesn’t matter how big, important and powerful you are, or small, vulnerable and marginalised, we all came from someone else… We’re all dependent, immortal not infinite, created, knit, and at the ‘expense’ of an other. No man is an island, cos all man has a mummy.

So I love Mother’s Day because it’s universal, we’ve all got a mother, this is an occasion on which everyone in our society can walk through the doors at church and be involved in what we’re celebrating. Hooray!

2. Women do bloody everything!!

Seriously, let’s face it, without the vast amount of unpaid work women, especially mothers, contribute to our economy NOW, let alone in the past, we’d all be in a pretty shabby state.

But the Protestant church, like the capitalist economy, isn’t the greatest at highlighting and acknowledging the contribution of women, so to have one day on which we specifically celebrate women, and the gift of God they are to us all, is a pretty good idea.

Although here’s the rub, when we (the church) do celebrate women, we celebrate her as ‘Mother’ and mother only. Queen of the home, and please stay there. A soft pastel portrait, which even the ‘homemakers’ I know don’t actually fit. So, it’s a little annoying that if we do spend a day as the church celebrating women, we only celebrate the role of motherhood.

For me, this contradiction can be dealt with in how to celebrate well, and thus becomes secondary to the opportunity to acknowledge the vital contribution of womanhood to the whole of human life. Let’s not let our reluctance to repeat the cliches silence the celebration entirely.

3. Motherhood tells us so much about the love of God.

Care, love, patience, sacrifice, choice, perseverance, self-control, if you want to know what God is like, think about what a good mother does. Interestingly enough, ‘comfort’ is a strong theme in the Biblical use of the motif of motherhood and how well does that correlate to a huge part of what we see mother’s to be; a bosom in the storm.

Isaiah 66:13, echoed in Matthew 23:37, and Isaiah 49:15 all images representing the care and compassion of a mother of her child represent God’s attitude toward His people.

It doesn’t mean that fathers aren’t compassionate and caring too! But let’s not allow the needed re-examination of gender roles and demands to strangle our perception of the deep universality of the ‘mother’.

I love Mother’s Day because it gives me an opportunity to reflect on all the ways God loves me and others and fights for us, longs for us, watches over us.

But in the light of the problems and difficulties, how can we celebrate well, not marginalising pain or maximising cliche.

Well, as promised, I have three suggestions.

1. Celebrate all the women in your church.

Like I said, I have no biological children (and with every passing day it becomes less likely), but God has promised me fruitfulness though I am barren. Isaiah 54 for example picks up this strong Biblical theme, where God calls life from nothingness. Eunuchs, barren women, widows and orphans all have reasons to rejoice because of the Good News. For starters, we are not left alone, we are drawn into the family of God. Orphans have a Father, single mothers have uncles, brothers and sons, the childless are given care of many children. I know this is not the same as giving birth myself… It’s better.

Even if I never squeeze a a screaming, tomato coloured mini-me out of my nether regions, as a woman of God, I am blessed with motherhood. (I’m also called to be a priest, a son and an ambassador among other things, but we’re talking about Mother’s Day at the moment). So, celebrate all the women in your church, remind them (and everyone else) that we have a calling higher than biological or even adoptive motherhood, and pray that we will all be equipped for such a monumental task.

I wouldn’t dictate HOW you’re gonna do this. At our church, all the kids during the ‘kids spot’ hand out flowers to all the women. It’s very sweet, we have a giggle, and I enjoy the (for me) rare pleasure of being given flowers (although, in the light of point two above, I’ll actually be the one going to the flower markets at 5:30/6am on the Saturday morning and then recruiting a few women from church to help me make posies. Sure, some of the guys could do it, but we women do secretly run the church and it’s just much more efficient if we get it done).

And it’s not tooooooo gooey and cliched, y’know? If however we were all given recipe books, or ‘fancy’ dishwashing gloves or something, yes, I’d probably start punching people. But flowers just say ‘thank you’ not, ‘make me something’.

2. Mourn with those who mourn.

Anyone with a modicum of pastoral sensitivity can see the ways in which remembering mothers could touch some sore spots, so acknowledge them. Personally I would suggest the prayers as the best time and way to do this, pray for those who’ve lost their mums, who want to be mums, whose mums were/are abusive. Bring our brokenness to God and ask that He’ll help us be an encouragement and comfort to each other.

Sin has effected every good thing God has given us, so even if we had Cake Day there’d be moments to mourn. It sucks. But it’s the reason we need Him. We shouldn’t let sadness kill happiness.

3. Invite.

Invite the women in your church to be supported in the task of motherhood, spiritual or otherwise.

For example, how are you helping your women learn to understand and teach God’s word? Even the most conservative complementarian must acknowledge that the Bible clearly commands women to teach women and children, so, help them do that well!

This can be so straightforward. For example, make sure it’s possible for your women to hear God’s word taught, in church, in group Bible study, through doing a course in theology or preaching course. Most churches already have this in place, but invite women to see this as a way to respond to the calling of motherhood.

How are you supporting women in the hard parts of mothering? You have meal rosters for those with newborns, fantastic! What about when there’s sickness or other stress? Or for the ‘childless’ mothers at your church? My church warmly embraced me during a period of poor mental health last year, brought me food and entertainment and housework help. I am so grateful, and their help enabled me to keep loving the people I’m responsible for.

Invite your church, as a whole, to pay attention to what we take for granted, all the ups and downs and ins and outs of the way our women take care of, lead, inspire and drag us through the dreadful bits. Invite them all to support and honour this, and thank God for it.

Yes, women are so much more than baby factories, so do Mother’s Day well! Fight the stereotypes, kill the cliches and comfort the broken hearted. Reflect on the love of God together and say thank you.

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Christmas Baggage

I gave a Christmas talk for the first time in a long while yesterday. I gave it twice!

If oral communication was the same as written communication, and if i’d had more than four minutes, the talk would’ve been something like this…

“Some of us are really looking forward to spending time with family at Christmas. And some of us are a bit stressed and worried about it. Some of us are both! Family can be complicated, y’know? There can be issues, old fights that’ve hung around, There was that time at that wedding when this aunt said something to that aunt that nobody’s ever forgiven and everyone took sides, except actually, barely anyone can now remember what was said, only that they don’t see that side of the family much any more.

And for some us the reasons are deeper, darker, and unfortunately, in many many cases, hidden. The problems seem intractable, unfixable, you never want to see those family members ever again.

Christmas can be hard.

But most of us still wish it could be a time for our family to be together, content and at peace, sharing a meal and getting along.

Which is exactly what God wants Christmas to be like as well.

Imagine for a moment there is a God. That He’s not just some weird, abstract idea, in the sky, of an old man, with a beard, but that He’s a Dad. A heavenly (heaven-based) Father. This is what Christians believe about God, that as He made us all, we are all His children.

But there’s baggage there. For most of us, the relationship with God isn’t that good. For some of us, we just stopped talking to Him a while ago. Our maybe our parent’s generation did, and so, we’re not quite sure why we don’t speak to that part of our family any more, but we know it’s just the way things are.

For some us, we feel wronged. He’s let us down in some way, so we don’t want to have to plaster on a fake smile and hang out, and send Him a Christmas card and pretend like things are great with Dad.

Some of us know that at a previous family gathering, something went wrong… Dad wanted to do things one way, everyone else decided to do it another, things got pretty heated, and now, well… You haven’t been together as a family for years.

Just as with some of our earthly family problems, this distance, this brokenness can seem irreconcilable. And frankly, some of us think we’re better off having cut Dad out of the picture. It was too painful and too ridiculous to keep talking to Him, we’re better off alone.

Some of us are uneasy about that though… We’ve heard about toxic people, and toxic relationships, but so many people speak of how loving God is, and His Son doesn’t seem like that bad of a guy. As the second or third generation, unsure of what supposedly went wrong, we look across the gap at our cousins and think, “um, why aren’t we talking to them? They seem fine…!”

And that’s where Jesus comes in. In His ‘swaddling cloths’ (old school nappy) and cuteness.

Just as it can seem impossible to bring aunt Millicent and aunt Margaret together and get them talking again, it can seem impossible for this distance between our Heavenly Dad and His family to be reconciled. Millicent and Margaret have been silent toward each other for so long, it’s clear something big needs to be done.

What could it be?

Will one side finally admit they were wrong…?

Well, if you knew the aunts, you’d know that’s never gonna happen! Admit fault? Nooooooo no no…

But you know things will never quite be right if they don’t deal with what went wrong…

Even if no one is willing to admit fault, there still needs to be a way for them to say, “I’m sorry, I still love you.”

Some sort of grand gesture?

That’s exactly what Dad-God was doing in sending His Son. We read in the Bible, in the book of John, chapter three, verse 16, “God loved the world, so he gave His one-of-a-kind Son, so that whoever trusts in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” God sent His own Son, a grand gesture, to show that He is willing to put the differences aside. He wants us to be together as a family this Christmas, so He made the first move.

The horrible secret is, the fault doesn’t lie with Him. We’re the ones who did wrong, we’re the ones who pushed Him away.

But He loves us. Unlike Millicent and Margaret, He’s more than happy to sacrifice His dignity, indeed, to sacrifice Himself, so that we can be together again.

He knows there’s baggage. As does His Son. If you asked Jesus how He felt about hanging out with the family, He’d probably say, “well look, there was that one time, when they crucified me, and, y’know, that hurt, but I love them. They drive me crazy, but I love them. They’re family! They can do so much damage, but so much good as well. There’s nothing like that love that says, yes, we will be together, forever. Blood for blood. I am for you. It’s family. It’s the most important thing. We’ve added people in along the way, the family expands in wild and crazy directions. Some have come in via marriage, all are adopted, we just love and love and love. I’m looking forward to being with the family this Christmas. I want us all to be together. To move past the things that broke us apart, and strengthen our relationships instead. I want us to love each other more by Boxing Day than we did before.”

God isn’t in the business of pretending there’s nothing wrong. He’s not the family member that simply pretends anyone He doesn’t like doesn’t exist. Instead, He set about fixing what was wrong, making the grand gesture, sending the big gift.

He’s made the first move.

How will you respond?”

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