Sunday, 24 February 2019


My work at the Sanctuary often brings me great joy. It is a privilege to witness the human capacity for hope, and to be surrounded by gestures of sharing, compassion and welcome.

But there are also times when the suffering of the world leaves me feeling exhausted, frustrated and deeply, deeply sad. There are times when I am ashamed of my country's hostile response to the desperate suffering of those who come pleading for help.

There are times where I feel I can make a tangible difference to people's lives. There are times where I know that I can't: when all I can offer is an apology for my country's failings and possibly a hug which might or might not soften the blow.

There is a very fine balance between the necessary resilience of self-care and the risk of becoming hardened or indifferent to the realities of everyday tragedies.

It is so very easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the injustices that surround us and by the seeming impermeability of the systems and structures we have created to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of real human relationships with those beyond our immediate circle. But it is always the individual stories, even those which are very hard to hear, which remind me something of the value of our human lives, and which teach me that our own humanity is irrevocably scarred if we ignore the humanity of the other. Inevitably, some stories, some people somehow effect me more deeply than others; there isn't always a rational logic as to which ones and why.

These moments of encounter pierce my protective shell and enable both laughter, and tears, to well up inside. I hope they always will.

I will be for ever indebted to those who are helping me to learn what it means to be fully human and fully alive.

She arrived to this
Much-vaunted civilisation
Bastion of freedom and democracy

A promised land

Of barbed wire and locked doors
Of detention and deprivation
Of hostility and suspicion

Her tired, shattered body
Confined for the crime
Of believing she had the right
To life

A life
Still mired in memories
Of love and loss
But which dares to dream
Of the healing of aching anguish
And of wings of freedom

We are all
The sum of our stories
The confused and disjointed
The incomplete and incoherent
The wretchedly real

But we took her scarred body
And we refused to believe

After all she has known
It is this
The lack of faith
In her humanity
Which slowly scars her soul

Wings of freedom
Clipped and crumpled
By a system designed to devastate

And yet
Threatened and hesitant
Still she tries
To smile through the tears

Clinging, by fragile finger-tips
To hope
And stretching out
Those beautiful, broken wings


Where can I go?

Monday, 11 February 2019

Answers (1)

It turns out Lydia is really good at thoughtful gifts. So for Christmas 2018, she gave us a jar filled with questions ... the idea being that we take out one a week to think about. I am deeply touched by the time, effort and thought that went into creating it; and it is proving a starting point for both reflection and conversation. It's also a good test of patience as I'm having to resist the temptation to peek at what might be coming up later in the year!

As my blog has long been the space I use to share my random rambling thoughts, it seems to make sense to share the answers, or bits of them, or bits of some of them,here too.

1) What's the one thing that people always misunderstand about you?

I guess I think I'm fairly transparent, what you see is more-or-less what you get so I don't think there is that much to misunderstand! I wonder whether, when people first meet me, they might believe me to be more organised than I actually am ... I am quite good, I think, at getting a lot done, and I think that gets mistaken for organisation when in reality the energy, enthusiasm and hard work are genuine, but there's a fair amount of chaos and disorganisation en route to the results!

2) What do you think about when you are alone?

Well, at the moment, these questions, so I'm now thinking about what I think about! But generally, work, a lot, possibly more than is healthy. I think that's always / often been true: it was true when I was a teacher, and it's definitely true now. About activities and ideas, a little; but mostly about people and their stories and experiences; and about my part in sharing in and shaping those realities, and my own story being effected by its interaction with them. I guess, ultimately, its not so much that I think about work, but that I think about people I care about, it just seems that a lot of the people I care about happen to be people at work, but there are certainly others too, perhaps including you.

3) If you had the ability to get rid of something you did in the past, what would it be?

The reality is that many of the things I can think of which haven't entirely worked out as planned, or which have brought with them struggles or challenges, are also the things that have brought me to the place I am today and helped make me the person I am, and as such I have very few regrets. Obviously there are things I might have done differently with the benefit of the hindsight and experience I now have, but that's just not how life works! I guess the thing in my past I am least proud of is probably how I behaved as a teenager (I was very difficult, but the good news is I think I turned out ok!). It came from a place of being deeply unhappy, something I am able to recognise and articulate now in a way that my fourteen yourself never could have done, but I guess maybe I could / should have handled life a little differently.

4) What are the main principles of your life?

It's become somewhat cliched, but if that old chestnut, that "these three things remain,faith,hope and love, and the greatest of these is love" doesn't sum up what guides my life, I at least hope it sums up what I aspire to live by as my guiding principles. That my trust in a loving God, and the rhythm of prayer which allows me to experience it is the firm foundation on which I am trying to build my life; that drawing on that source I am able to remain hopeful,not with some sort of naive and empty optimism, but with a deep sense of hope which inspired me to fight on for the change I believe necessary and keep smiling in the midst of the mess along the way. And that the experience of unconditional love, a love which forgives all my failings (and there are many!) might help me take baby steps towards offering that same love to those around me, those I encounter and those I don't, love expressed through a passion for justice and peace,love expressed in caring, compassionate relationships.  This is the life I want to try and live, but I acknowledge it is aspirational as opposed to accurate, but I guess that's often what principles are ... the place to come back to all those times when I'm not measuring up to my own standards!

5) What is your greatest fear?

I've written a lot about fear, recently, and about trying not to be afraid, so it's tricky to now stop and reflect on what I am afraid of... but I think my deepest fear, at least at the moment, is to feel like I do not have a purpose; to feel like I am not, or that I cannot make a difference to the world around me. I would be the first to say that I do not believe our value is found in what we do or achieve, that we have inherent value irrespective of our achievements because we are beloved children of God ... that our first vocation is to be not to do; despite that, in my heart of hearts I know that the idea of not having a purpose, not being able to contribute, fills me with dread! 

More to follow ...

Thursday, 7 February 2019

In search of unity

The week of prayer for Christian Unity, 18th - 25th January, was marked in Birmingham, once again, by #pray24brum. As it has turned out, this blogpost feels more a collection of my disparate thoughts about this event than a coherent whole.

Now in its fifth year, I have put a fair amount of time and effort into helping this to become an established annual event, part of the life and rhythm of the ecumenical scene of Birmingham's churches. I know that my motivation for doing so is not entirely selfless: as well as believing it is a very good thing for the city, it is an event that really matters to me personally. 

I have long cared deeply about church unity and the deep divides I see in the churches have often been a source of great pain. Finding spaces where Christians of different traditions, including those who don't sit comfortably in anyone box, can come together and be unified across their great diversity is really important to me. 

But my love of, and belief in the importance of #pray24brum is about more than just that: because this is not an event which is about being ecumenical for its own sake. It is not a talking shop where we sit down together and discuss the minutiae of our distinctive church traditions, valuable though that may be at times. I am not one to shy away from theological debate (especially late at night over a glass of red wine!), but #pray24brum offers something different: it is a space where our differences dissolve because we turn together towards God and outwards to the world.

#pray24brum is a reminder that the importance I place on prayer in my life is something that is shared, valued and supported by others; and I know that I need those reminders. I really value our regular routine of prayer, I know that the commitment that sustains it is worthwhile and feeds the life I lead, but I know I also need to have times when I can be supported and carried in and by the prayers of others and #pray24brum is one of those moments for me, moments that are sufficiently rare that they are precious where I find them. 

It is also a symbol that Church Unity is not an end in itself, it is merely the means by which we are most able to be visible witnesses to the love we are called to have for one another. Whatever the differences of theology and practice, in the midst of a diversity of styles of prayer and praise, what united everyone who led and participated throughout those twenty four hours was that we were facing outwards: out from ourselves towards God, out from ourselves towards the world around us; a turning outwards borne of a deep faith that prayer matters and makes a difference, that it matters to us and makes a difference to our world. That it is the source and summit of a loving relationship with God and one another.

This year, towards the beginning of the event, I spoke about #pray24brum on premier Christian radio. I was somewhat thrown off balance by an unexpected opening question about Brexit ... but perhaps the interviewer was right. There was a deep symbolism to what the event in this specific context. Because here was a brief interlude in which we were able to bring together people who might otherwise be deeply divided, but who when we turned outward, united in our concern to being good to those beyond ourselves, therein lies the path to finding common ground.

In the grand scheme of things, #pray24brum is not a ‘big event’: there are plenty of other events which pull a much bigger crowd. During the twenty-four hours there were never less than ten people present, but there were rarely more than thirty. No-one kept count of how many people drifted in or out through the days, because that wasn't the point. But in the peaceful ebb and flow throughout the two days, it felt like an important witness to the place and purpose of prayer in the life of the church, and to the possibility of standing together with those with whom we may at first feel we have little in common, united by our common desire to love and be loved by God, and to show that love to others. I hope it will long be a feature of the beginning of my year.