Dear Prime Minister 

Dear Prime Minister,

I can’t imagine the pressure you face everyday. You live your life in a home that isn’t yours, your every move noted and second guessed by your staff, colleagues, opponents, media, those you govern and much of the international community. Add to that the pressure, that from the outside, I perceive any woman in politics faces; your clothes, hair, make up and look are combed through with a fine toothed comb. I can’t imagine the pressure you face. Continue reading

Loneliness. Knowing everyone and being unknown. 

I’ve always been a fan of honesty. I wrote a book with the word honest on the cover. I thought I was being clever when I came up with that, imagining that what I had written was intelligent and controversial. I imagine myself eyeing down the equally shocked and amazed critics and shrugging, ‘I’m just being honest,’ I say wrly. I was a lot younger then and realise now that this sort of thinking is based on arrogant delusion of grandeur and an over active imagination. 

If I had actually been clever I’d have realised that being honest is actually one of the most transformative and profound decisions we can take. Being honest about who we are and who we are not, what we believe and what we do not, what we’ve done and we have not is both liberating as it can be terrifying. These last few days I’ve experienced both in double measure. I’ve felt another weight lifted from my hands that I was afraid to let go of. 

For the first time in months, just over a year, I feel known. Honesty is a wonderful catharsis. 

We are sold A lie everyday, that is, that Facebook friends and likes, retweets and followers are real things and very important. Underpinning this phenomenon is the idea that popularity, measured in numbers, is what makes us feel valued. The idea that the higher the number of connections we make, the less alone we will feel, is silently creeping around society. 

I read an article a little while ago that said that the current stage of evolution of social media is detrimental to the mental health of many people. This isn’t just because of a bombardment of newsworthy tragedy and political argument but also due to the illusion it causes that we know many more people as friends than we actually do. Most of my social media contacts are acquaintances whom I know a strange collection of details about, they aren’t friends as such. 

Does this illusion of friendship amplify a sense of lonlieness? We have all these easily contactable  friends, yet few people call. We see the lives of others play out on our phones whilst we feel isolated and forgotten. Of course the previous two sentences are perhaps overstatements or worst case scenarios, but the principle stands. 

We’ve bought the lie that knowing many people will combat our loneliness. The truth is that loneliness is defeated by becoming known and that only comes with risk. Being known comes with the risk of being honest about struggles and fears, dreams and ambitions. We defeat loneliness when we tell someone about the thing that we are ashamed of anyone knowing, that invisibly hovers between us and meaningful connection. 

Many of us are lonely in a crowd but we carry that crowd in our pockets. We scroll and scroll through the pictures and posts of the crowd we are in and make little connection beyond a thumbs up or a like. 

The beauty is that when someone takes a risk to be known often that risk is multiplied. When one looks across a table in a coffee shop and says, ‘can I be honest about something?’ most often that honesty is reciprocated. If we open ourselves up to another often they open themselves up to us.

The church has an opportunity to become communities of real connection. Our small groups can move beyond Bible studies to safe places for honesty and confession. Our preachers can portray vulnerability to encourage it in others. More of our songs can include struggle and lament amongst triumph and celebration. We can embrace doubt as a real life experience and listen to those who carry it without deeming them weak.  

We can create in our churches, a culture of knowing and of being known, but it has to start somewhere. Someone has to take the risk first. If you are lonely or if you just want to fight for those who are, call someone, arrange a coffee, text or visit, and tell them who you really are. Look them in the eye and be honest. It’s s risk worth taking. 

My Mental Health Story. #TimeToTalk

I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably tough person. I’ve experienced my fair share of difficulties in life and am still standing. Of course, hidden in those first two sentences is a belief that being tough is a virtue; that being stoic and struggling on no matter what is something to celebrated. I guess that is true in part but it is far from the whole truth.  Continue reading

Dear Church leaders. Please don’t ignore President Trump this Sunday.

Dear church leaders,

Particularly those of you leading churches in America. I used to be a church leader. I don’t envy you this weekend.

It’s hard being a church leader. It gets really tricky around times like these. It’s hard when you have deeply held beliefs, both spiritual and political but lead a group with a diverse range of beliefs.  I’ve been there with Brexit, I desperately wanted us to stay in the EU and probably did an extremely poor job of keeping that under wraps. It’s hard to hide our feelings.  Continue reading

Resetting my reality

I’ve been learning a lot these last weeks.

Accepting your own frailty and making choices from that acceptance is, ironically, a strengthening process.

Learning to live in the reality of who we are, and not in unrealistic expectations that we (meaning me) more often than not, create ourselves, but imagine to exist in the minds of others, causes us immense stress and anxiety.

When we attempt to live up to the version of ourselves that we imagine to be expected; the strong, gifted, beautiful, talented, successful, busy person of great importance we open a door in our heads for misery to enter.

When we fail to live as who we are, in a trade off for who we are not, solely to please others, or to silence the judge in our own heads, we climb onto a treadmill that will just get faster as our legs get ever more tired. We run towards goals we can’t reach, and may not even want to, all in a race for acceptance and yet our tactics are all wrong. When we don’t reach the goal, if we don’t produce, we add another little bit of sadness to our lives and begin to believe that we are unacceptable.

I’m choosing to accept who I am. I am much less smart and original than I think I am. I am definitely much less organised than I imagine and I’m sure I’m a worse friend than the ever-loyal-dream-buddy I am in my head. I am reluctantly accepting my weaknesses are many (as are my strengths). I am understanding my invincibility is much less definite than I suppose. I am embracing my frailty and it is liberating.

I’m reconnecting with the part about my faith that first drew me to God in the first place; that I am me and because of that and in spite of it, that the God of heaven loves me without condition. That my value is found not in my achievements, reputation or persona, but in that simple truth that He loves me as much as He loves you and as much as He loves every single one of us.

It feels like breathing clean, fresh air for the first time.

On the first day of Christmas… 

I have never been that sure what use a partridge in a pear tree is. They seem like a very strange pairing. A partridge in gravy I can understand but a partridge and a pear tree seems to me like an odd coupling. I guess the ‘true love’ in the carol new the songwriter better than I do and their un- spoken love for wildfowl and orcharding had caught their attention. The lover knew best what the beloved needed. 

That is so often the way with gifts. I have received gifts from grandparents and friends and at first glance I have been bewildered by what possessed them to buy me such a token of affection. Yet in time, as curiosity rose, the very thing I had initially shunned became a favourite. I found life in their gift that I had previously not experienced. The grandparent knew best what the grandchild needed. 
On the very first day of Christmas this was more the case than ever. Centuries had passed since the first hint of a rescuer. The world had seen war upon war. Famine upon famine. Humanity, as often is its wont, had subjected itself to countless horrors. The people of God had heard prophe- cies of the rescuer. The one who would restore righteousness, peace and freedom to Israel. Long had they looked to the heavens and prayed for the rescuer to come and at the turning of history the Messiah couldn’t come quick enough. 
The people were under oppression, the strength of Rome had crushed all in its path and the Promised Land was no longer in the hands of those to whom it was promised. They were resident but they were far from at home. The fervour of the prayers for the rescuer to come; for the anoint- ed, sent one to arrive were at a peak. He was needed more than ever. 

And then He came. Leaving the glories of Heaven for the broken shores of Earth, He came. 
The long awaited gift arrives, wrapped in frail humanity. A baby born in squalor to a mother plagued by rumours of infidelity that still raise their head 2000 years later and a father learning to to raise a son that was not his own. Don’t be fooled by the nativity play and the Christmas carols, the moment the promise arrived in Bethlehem was stunning not for its beauty but for its gritty hu- manity. The gift given was frail and in danger. Hounded by rumour and born in filth the arriving rescuer looked in need of rescue Himself. 
Every Christmas I fall for my own self aggrandising pride and convince myself that it was all very obvious what was going on. I convince myself that I would have known that the baby in a trough was the King from Heaven’s throne but I am deluded. It is no surprise to me that those around could have missed Him. It is no surprise that once grown and beginning His ministry He was questioned by His hearers. I would have hearkened back to His confusing birth story. I would have remembered His childhood and missed the Glory and divinity woven amongst the beautiful human mundanity of The Christ. 
The gift of God did not look like a gift but as He grew His value grew clear. This child born in ob- scurity would take centre stage in the story of the world. The gift came wrapped badly and without glamour yet the creator knew best what the creation needed. 
This Christmas as you are surrounded with paper, boxes, searches for missing batteries and more food than you require be sure not to miss His gift. Look at the fabric of your life. Where are the threads that look out of place or insignificant that actually are the work of your loving Father bringing blessing to you that perhaps you don’t even know you need? Who are the people in your life that you are not paying attention to yet are sent by God to bring the answers to the prayers you are praying? 

Thank you for the rescue you sent in your Son. Thank you for giving us eyes to see your wonder in His mundanity and Your strength in His divinity. Open our eyes this Christmas to the blessings you have poured out around us. Give us ears to hear your voice. Thank you that you know us better than we even know ourselves and give gifts that we need before we even ask for them. You are such a gracious God. 
This is chapter one of my Christmas book. You can get the rest as a free ebook here

Why did Evangelicals vote for Trump? 

I’ve been pondering why 81% of white evangelicals would vote for Trump. Just some thoughts. I’m no expert on US politics but I think a lot about church. None of this is universal but from what I’ve seen and experienced in American churches it will cover some.

1. Abortion – Hillary is very pro-choice. Trump flipped to pro-life at the start of campaign. Evangelicals will rarely if ever vote pro-choice.

2. Obama – Many, not all, believe him to be a Muslim at best and at worst the anti-Christ. I was added by someone else to an evangelical mailing list that ‘proved without doubt Obama was the anti-Christ of Revelation.’ (Despite there being no mention of the anti-Christ in Revelation.) Many well known Evangelical leaders hate Obama and therefore Clinton by association, no surprise that their people do too.

3. Islam – belief that all Muslims are the same as ISIS and that Hillary is pro-Muslim. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is no more than an echo of famous evangelicals like Franklin Graham. Trump resembled recognisable evangelical leaders.

4. Marriage equality – The passing of marriage equality has been received by the Evangelicals as a direct arrack on their faith. This has been backed up by the teaching of many leaders. Clinton was in the executive that passed it.

5. Women in leadership – For generations Evangelical churches have taught complementarianism and male headship. Male only church leadership is the norm. It may be a leap for many who wouldn’t have a female church leader to have one lead the country. For many evangelicals America is equated with the Kingdom of God. For some, ‘One nation under God,’ had become, ‘God’s one nation.’ How can a woman lead God’s one nation.’

6. Siege mentality – There is a belief amongst many evangelicals both in USA and U.K. that they are under siege. That the media and culture are actively seeking their destruction. Every liberal legislative step is seen as an undermining of Christian values. Some of this is justified, a lot of it isn’t. American and U.K. Christians are amongst the most powerful and free people on earth. In recent years we have had to share that power and freedom with people very different to ourselves, but we have not lost much of these freedoms. Yet this has been cast by leaders as a sign of persecution. Sharing power and being persecuted are not the same (pay attention Northern Ireland.) If you’re told you are under attack you will see the enemy everywhere.

When I think of Trump’s campaign I can see that a lot of his rhetoric is mimicry of very well known evangelicals. Tune into Christian television and you will see what I mean. A lot of what he is saying isn’t that different. These channels are funded almost exclusively by donations from evangelicals.

Of course many will have voted for policy. Some for Republican lawyer. Some because they think Mr Trump is qualified. I do wonder if many have voted because they are afraid they are being eroded by the liberal political class, informed by these 6 issues and Trump looks like he will defend them.

The most common words I am reading to describe Trump voters are ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ racist’ and ‘xenophobe.’ I don’t think it is that simple and that kind of language will only entrench difference and widen the chasm in society. We can mend things when we work to stand from someone else’s view point.

I couldn’t personally have voted for Trump. My personal conscience and faith would clash with his rhetoric and policy too often but that doesn’t make those who did evil. If I can see things from their point of view I can at least stop feeling sad and angry at fellow Christians. I think many (not all) are afraid, and Trump speaks to fear.