Dear “millennials”…

I really dislike the term “millennial” because of the connotations attached to it. There’s the thought that our generation (usually defined as those born in the 80’s/90’s/early 00’s) are entitled, social media obsessed, selfish and disinterested. The media often portrays us as “special snowflakes” who can’t handle the real world.

So I am hesitant about using the term, but for the sake of this blog I’m using it in the most basic sense.

So, why am I addressing this particular generation today? Well, the bombshell fell today, we are having another General Election (so long as it passes with enough votes from Parliament) one that Theresa May promised we wouldn’t have.

In June we will vote for the next leader of our nation, which seems frankly quite exhausting after Referendums, the U.S. Elections and the fallout from both that followed. But here we are.

As a group we have seen a LOT in our voting history. The first time I was able to vote (May 2010) I was beyond enthusiastic. I finally had the right to have my voice heard and I spent hours reading up on parties and policies, and the result utterly floored me. We had a hung Parliament with a coalition that I didn’t expect. We have also seen a Referendum that changed the future of our country forever, and a resignation from our Prime Minister. We now currently have an un-elected PM and an incredibly unsure future.

This is why it is so important that we as a generation are fully engaged in the General Election this year.

If we have democracy, we therefore have the right to not vote. No one can take that away from you. Whether you vote or not is absolutely your own decision, however I would implore you to take time to think about your vote and what it means before you decide not to tick that box.

I’m going to briefly talk statistics. A recent poll taken by research firm Achieve and the Case Foundation showed that more than half of us trust the government only a little or not at all. There is no surprise then that voter turnout for those aged 18-29 is not high. I can understand this disillusionment, but I also find it interesting how many of our generation are out in droves protesting, whether it be the Women’s March, marches against Trump’s visit to the UK or anti-EDL marches, the number of millennials is huge!

We seem to be a passionate and vocal generation, so if we feel so strongly about the outcomes, then we surely need to be engaging in elections.

Of the estimated 24 million people under 30 who voted in the 2016 presidential election, a large majority supported Hillary Clinton, and according to the last YouGov poll before the referendum, 72% of 18 to 24-year-olds were in favour of a Remain vote, while just 19% backed Brexit.

Seemingly, the things that we support are the things that are lacking in support. Which is why it is so incredibly important that our generation is mobile.

We are not a generation that has security and stability. Young people in the UK have the some of the poorest mental wellbeing in the world, new research suggests, with only Japan falling below British millennials by levels of stress and anxiety. The media would like the world to think that it is because we “special snowflakes” need safe space in case we get our feelings hurt, when in reality our generation lacks the stability and future prospects that many of the previous generations had, it’s no wonder that levels of anxiety and depression are through the roof.

I think it is about time we got rid of this label of being lazy and entitled youths with our faces in our phones. It is time we stood up for ourselves and for others who need it. With such high numbers of people suffering from depression, the NHS is key! With lower prospects for employ-ability, we may rely more on the state! With housing seemingly completely unattainable we will need help! And voting for a party that will allow us to have that sense of security is incredibly important, not just for us but for all who are on the fringes or for those who live in poverty!

One thing I do believe about this generation is that it has a social conscience. There have been arguments that the “baby boomers” simply looked after themselves and didn’t think about the repercussions for those who came after them (that’d be us!) But I believe that millennials have a passion for social justice, a genuine want to improve the country, an appreciation of diversity and the drive to support the marginalised.

I can’t tell you how to vote. One can only assume you can gather where my vote will be going, and that is no secret. When the Labour party are promising £10 per hour minimum wage for all over 18, free school meals for all children aged 4-11, renationalisation of the NHS, an end to public sector pay freeze, an end to gender pay cap and an end to zero hour contracts, then for me, it is a no brainer.

I know that not many people particularly like Jeremy Corbyn, I’m not his biggest fan, but I truly believe that the Labour party will do more to benefit a broader spectrum of people than the Conservatives will, and I would hate to think that we had a repeat of Hillary Clinton here. People didn’t like Hilary, fine, but they chose to elect a man that cares little about minorities, who does not protect the poor and vulnerable and who cares very deeply about the wealthy.

I think this is about the bigger picture. Corbyn is not my first choice for Labour leadership, but the party as a whole will, I believe, truly work to make this country better, stronger, and more understanding of each and every type of person.

I repeat, I cannot tell you how to vote, but I can be vocal about my reasons for my vote, and all I ask is that you do the same.

Ask questions! What do you want for this country? What is important to you? Who do you want to protect? What have you liked or disliked from the current government?

I urge you, please get involved. Talk to people in the pub. Listen to each other. Debate. Question the media. Read statistics. Don’t just sit back and allow older generations to determine our fate!

We can be a united generation! They call us snowflakes, well let them see what a blizzard can really do!

Christ triumphant, ever reigning…

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Christ the King, a relatively new feast which began in the Roman Catholic calendar in 1925, and the Anglican in the year 2000. It is a feast that was instituted to fight against a growth in secularism and negativity towards the Christian faith, a feast that celebrates the all-embracing authority of Jesus as Lord and King of all.

Usually when we have days to celebrate monarchs, it’s quite the event! If you think about how many celebrations, concerts, tv programs, commemorative plates and parties surrounded the Queen’s 90th birthday then you’ll understand what I mean. Monarchs historically have always been pretty pampered. Even today, in a much more modern context than the kings and queens of old that held banquets and chopped off people’s heads, the Queen is surrounded by security, driven from place to place, given the best health care available and resides in beautiful palaces and houses.

It strikes me as a little odd then, that on the day we remember Christ as King over all humanity, the Gospel reading is not about his glorious resurrection, it doesn’t mention his ascension into heaven, but it focuses on his passion. His slow and painful death on the cross.

Jesus’ kingship is mocked in this passage, he is ridiculed, humiliated, derided. No one is worshipping at his feet or rolling out red carpets for him, he hangs on the cross, bleeding, exhausted and demoralised. This certainly does not relate to the idea of kings and queens that we see in period dramas or what we think of our current monarchy does it?

But it isn’t just the way that Jesus is treated by others that makes him different than other kings and queens, it is how he acts himself.

Christ is humble on the cross, he does not boast or brag but hangs there listening to all that is being said about him. How easy would it have been to respond to this taunting in spite? I can only imagine myself responding, “yes, I am the king, and just you wait, you’re in for it now!” But he doesn’t. He asks God, his Father, to forgive those that have crucified him, those who insult him. Christ is the most humble King, one that loves and forgives, rather than punishes.

As we heard in the Gospel reading this morning, one of the criminals asks, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” and this does beg the question, if Jesus is king of all, if He is the Son of God, the almighty, then why doesn’t he save himself? One can only assume that a man that can perform miracles, a man who can raise people from the dead has the ability to save himself from death on a cross. But this is another characteristic that makes Jesus a rather significant and different king. He submits to his fate not because of weakness or inability, but because He is obedient. He knows his death is God’s will, and therefore he yields willingly to the Father, with love, understanding and trust.

Christ in this moment seems to us more obviously human than in other Gospel passages. Yes, He is divine, Yes he is God, but in this moment he suffers and feels pain because he is also completely human. This gives us another aspect of Christ’s Kingship that we can appreciate, this great suffering that Christ encounters in his last moments is unlike any other. He is not simply suffering himself, but feels the weight of our sins, our pain, our sadness and our anguish. It is so much more than we can possibly fathom, and yet when we come to points in our lives where we struggle, we can turn to Jesus. He knows our pain, He knows our grief and our sorrow, He understands it much more than we could ever hope for.

The King of all suffers and dies on the cross. This we know. But what we also know is that this is not the end. Obviously we have the full story, and we know about his glorious resurrection, but for those who were there with him, they did not understand what was to come. His disciples, friends and followers must have felt so empty and betrayed. The promises that this man was the King of all kings must have seemed so incredible, and then to see him weakened in this way must have shattered that promise.

But it is from the common criminal hanging next to Jesus that we see that promise again. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. He believes so truly that the man who suffers the same fate as he does is more than he can ever be. He trusts that Christ is the King that they all hoped and prayed he would be, and he does so not asking to be saved, but simply to be remembered. And Christ gives him more than what he asks for, “truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”. Christ gives a gift that we can only imagine, a gift so great that I find it hard to even fathom. Christ the ever gracious and giving King is throwing open the kingdom of heaven for us, a kingdom of love, equality, beauty and eternity.

Christ is the King. And on this day when we hear in the Gospel about his pain and suffering, we must also celebrate. Today is not like Easter morning with festivity and trumpets sounding, but as we celebrate this feast of Christ the King, we stand in awe at his altar, his holy communion, and we give thanks for His glorious and wonderful sovereignty.

Amen.

Sermon: The Feast of the Assumption

All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

A few weeks ago I joined in with the Society of Mary day pilgrimage to Walsingham. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned far too many times, I really love Walsingham. I’ve been going since I was a child and I’ve always found it a great source of comfort, calm and a place where I can feel incredibly close to God.

Some of you in the congregation this evening may have been to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in fact I would imagine rather a lot of you have. And I’m sure those who have would note that the Shrine, though it is a Shrine to Our Lady, is unapologetically about God.

I thought about this a little when I read the scripture for this evening’s service, and saw that the second lesson is about the Ascension of Our Lord, with Mary mentioned at the very last moment. This may seem odd, seeing as this evening we celebrate Our Lady’s Assumption, rather than the Ascension. The Assumption isn’t mentioned in the Bible, though many would argue that the woman in Revelation 12 is in fact Mary, but I don’t think that we hear the story of Our Lord’s Ascension simply because there’s nothing written about the Assumption, and it’s a vaguely similar theme.

When we celebrate Our Lady, we ultimately look to Christ. At Walsingham they have a procession of the statue of Our Lady twice a week, before which there is a sermon. Having been there for a whole year I could practically recite it to you, but I think I’d better not! However, the one part that always struck me during the sermon, was when the order of the procession was explained.

Right at the front there is the thurifer and just behind that the cross. The statue of Our Lady is right in the middle of the pilgrims, behind Our Lord. She is not at the front, the focus of the procession, but she follows her son, with the pilgrims, as she does now with us in our lives.

Mary points us to Christ, she does not take glory or praise for acts that God has done, her response “be it unto me according to thy word” can show us that. Even in her miraculous assumption we know that it is God lifting her up, not something that she “caused” herself.

Mary is incredibly important to me, as she is to many, she was – as we hear in Luke’s Annunciation Narrative – favoured. It is said that she was a devout young girl, learned in the Scriptures, and God chose her. But I think the key point there, is God. He chose her. The Holy Spirit worked through her and she bore the Christ-child.

Mary didn’t ascend in to heaven in the same way as Christ. ‘Assumption’ means ‘taking up’. It is an act of God, in which the person assumed remains passive. It’s not the same as ascension ‘going up’ which gives an active role to the person who goes up. The only person who ascended to God was Jesus Christ. John’s gospel tells us, ‘No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man’ (Jn. 3:13). The assumption of Mary is dependent on the ascension of Jesus.

Again this makes me think of that processional order, Christ first, then Mary. Mary could not have been assumed into heaven if Christ had not died, risen and ascended. So as much as I love an excuse to celebrate the life of the Virgin Mary, I almost feel like this feast isn’t even about her.

Mary is the image of a redeemed humanity. Her assumption and her place in heaven is the place that God has prepared for all of us. This feast day allows us to look forward, to see what our destiny is when the time has fully come. She leads the way for us, but it is a way that has been made possible, by her son Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to suggest in all of this that Mary was entirely passive, just an empty body. This isn’t a case of God doing eenie meenie minie mo and she was the one He landed on. Mary’s devotion, her purity, her willingness to please God, are all attributes that make her the chosen person to bear the Christ-child, and her life since that moment of conception was devoted utterly to her Son, both in the maternal, natural way that all mothers do, but in the faithful understanding that her Son was so much more than that. He was hers, but also everyone’s. She knew that she would eventually lose him, and as horrific as that must be for a mother, she came to understand why.

Mary’s life was for Christ in the physical sense that she fed him, raised him, and loved him, but it was for Christ in the way that ours should be too. She was not only his mother, but a faithful follower, she loved him not only as any mother loves her Son, but as she should love the Son of God. This is beautiful and an incredible inspiration to us all. That if Christ’s own mother can see him as both fully human and fully divine, and can take from him his teaching and his message, and worship him in a way that combines both her earthly motherly love and her love of Jesus as King, then we too must strive to see the awesome glories of our Lord.

So this evening as we kneel in the presence of her Son, let us ask our Blessed Mother to pray for us. To pray that we may all be as obedient, as faithful, and as full of the love of Jesus as she is.

And let us pray to the Father that he may strengthen us, and help us to be like Mary, that we may lead others to Christ, that we may feel his presence in our lives, that we may respond to the Call that we receive, and that we may love Christ openly, and with our whole hearts.

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This one’s for the girls…

I’ve been thinking a lot about female friendships, partly due to conversations with an incredible female friend of mine who has very wise thoughts and opinions on the friendships made between women – much wiser and more in depth than mine in this post – but also because of the incredible speeches given by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders at the Glamour awards.

When I think about media representations of female friendships, to be honest I get a bit sad. Even films and tv shows that I love seem to miss the mark by a long shot. There’s a long list of films dedicated to the concept of female friendship, how it blossoms, how it fails and how it should be, but to be honest I don’t feel like there are that many true representations – certainly not of the friendships I have with women.

Some examples? I googled “top films about female friends” and so many of the results were disappointing. I could have written about so many of the films on the list but quite frankly I ramble on enough as it is, so I picked the top two, both of which I felt were ultimately flawed.

Number 1)

Beaches – I feel like this one isn’t as bad as it could be, the ending of the film (no spoilers, but if you haven’t seen it where have you been?!) shows the deep, incredible love between two women and the sacrifices they make for each other, but it takes a heck of a long time to get there, and of course, there’s a man they both want (because women don’t discuss politics or the economy or books or films, they just argue over who gets the hot man!) The description of the film also makes me bristle… “The tale of an unlikely friendship between rich debutante Hillary (Barbara Hershey) and brash child performer C.C. (Bette Midler), as they navigate the ups and downs of life…” The concept that the friendship is unlikely because one is rich and one is mouthy irritates me. I very much doubt that women simply look for friendships with women that are exactly the same as them, and it seems unfair that when we are told that in male/female relationships that “opposites attract” that this rule wouldn’t be applicable if both parties are female.

Number 2)

Bridesmaids – this one I am definitely not down with. Two women literally fight over who gets to be the best friend, while the woman they fight about lets it all happen. To me, this is not what a female friendship is. Yes, there will always be times when we get a little jealous when our BFF gets a new friend, especially when we have been around so long, but seriously? They assume that we will resort to hating the “other woman” and potentially ruining our besties hen do and wedding?! No. I love my long time girl besties, and of course they now have other close friends, but ultimately what happens is I end up with another amazing woman in my life, because of course if my awesome, cool as hell BFF makes a friend, she’s going to be just as fun to be around! And even if they’re not, I don’t know many women that care so little about their best friend that they would trash their wedding shower or any brides that would let their mate slum it in economy while everyone else sits in first class.

These films all seems to be based around “the girls end up on different paths” which basically means, one of them gets super successful and the other gets super annoyed. I mean seriously?! I get how hard it can be to watch your friends do so well when you don’t feel like you are, but I’ve been there, on both sides!

I’ve watched friends flourish as teachers when I was turned down for my teacher training, and of course you notice it more when you don’t feel like you’re doing as well, but I was the first person to be whooping down the phone when a friend got great ofsted results or got a promotion, or passed their NQT year. Similarly, I’ve got friends who are over the moon for me because I’m engaged, even when there have been some tough times in their own love lives.

For me, female friendship is about the opposite of what the film industry wants us to think. It’s about mutual flourishing, being happy for your girls when things go well, and being there to rage at the universe when it doesn’t. It’s not about back stabbing and jealousy, it’s not focused on simply talking about men (see the Bechdel test) or bitching about other women who are “doing better than us”.

This is why I am so completely obsessed with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders’ appearance at the glamour awards. Dawn French is incredibly funny, successful, and inspiring. She wasn’t getting the award that night, and she joked about just that, but ultimately what happened was she stood there – admittedly mercilessly mocking one of her best friends – and said “look! Look at this amazing woman! She’s incredible and I love her and you should too! She’s spectacular and funny and smart and she’s even got a massive film coming out! She’s the best, and I want the whole world to know!”

And Saunders’ response to this? As French moves out of the way to let her friend accept her award, Saunders simply grabs her saying, “Don’t stand behind me you f*****g t**t!” She doesn’t need her to move aside, yes this is her moment, but she wants to share it with a woman who she calls her inspiration and states, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about female friendships it’s that there is no one in the world who will support you more, love you more, celebrate you more than a close female friend! They’re the ones making the banners to wave, they’re the ones pointing out all the beautiful things about you when you can only see ugliness, they’re the ones who through all the crap we wade through in life are there holding your hand and keeping you upright when all you want to do is fall apart.

There’s no relationship quite like it. And of course there are things that your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife gives you that your friends can’t, but though they are different, I struggle with the concept that the romantic relationship is ultimately more important than the female friendship.

I have friends who now live miles away from me because that’s where they need to be for their partner, and although I am ‘squealy phone call-tell me all the details-oh my gosh you’re so grown up’ excited for them, I’m still sad.

Because that friend who at one stage saw you as their “person” has got a new person. You’re not the one she will ring at the end of the day to take the mick out of the ridiculous people she works with because when she goes home she will tell her partner. When she needs to make a big decision about a job she will look to them before you. And you’ll know, deep down, that it’s right, that their partner deserves that, and that you really are genuinely happy for her. But you’ll still grieve for the time when you were a pair, inseparable, the two of you taking on the world.

And here’s the thing… even though one of you might get married, get a job the other side of the country, move back to your home town or whatever, nothing will get in the way. Your best girls will still ring you to tell you exciting news, they’ll want you to help them pick their wedding dress, they’ll want you to fight their corner when their partner is being unreasonable and they will certainly be there to do the same for you!

I have some amazing, incredible, wonderful male friends, and goodness knows I am completely obsessed with my fiancée, but to me those female friendships are so key, so important, so special and unique that I seriously do not know where I would be without them!

So to my wonderful, inspiring, bossy, beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, outstanding ladies… I am eternally grateful because it’s you girls who have shaped me and helped me to grow into the person I am today (which is another way of saying “it’s your fault I turned out like this so I can’t be blamed!”) As Jennifer Saunders said at the end of her speech, “If I’ve made an outstanding contribution to anything I hope it’s to female friendships.” You girls have made an outstanding contribution to female friendships, and I will love you forever.

 

The Parable of the Sower…

The parable of the sower is one that I always remember from my childhood, in young Church or at School. I remember every time it came up in the lectionary being led up to the vestry with the rest of the kids to plant cress on soggy bits of kitchen roll.

On a very basic level I always wondered which type of soil I was. I knew which one I was meant to be, and therefore just assumed I was that one. I was six, I hadn’t yet begun to grapple with what type of Christian I was or whether I was doing a good job at it or not.

I don’t however think it is that simple. I don’t think we neatly fall into a category of “hard hearted path”, “shallow rocky soil”, “weed infested ground” or “good soil.” I feel that we encompass all four of these classes at different points in our lives or even all at once. None of us is simply one type of soil.

This opens up many questions for me;

  • What kind of soil am I now?
  • Am I bearing the kind of fruit I should be bearing?
  • How do I become the good soil that I know I should be?

Deep down I feel that we all know we should be working towards being the good ground, and there is certainly no way that we can simply do that on our own. Because the important part of this parable for me is the identity of the sower. God.

A gardener or a farmer will tell you that when you’re planting seeds or crops, that you don’t just arbitrarily chuck the seeds left right and centre, you cultivate the ground and you treat it before you make sure you are planting in the right place. God in all his infinite wisdom knows how to plant the seed, how to distinguish who is ready and in the right place to hear and spread his Gospel, but it is so much more than that. Although He is making us ready – even when we don’t realise it – He does so much more with His Grace and his Word. God is, in fact, not a good gardener. But the thing is that even though he ignores the meticulous ways of gardening, He knows what he is doing.

The beauty of God’s grace is that it’s infinite. He will always love us, He will always hold us in His favour, and therefore He is in a position to squander it. He can throw His love, His Grace, His favour to people who aren’t ready to receive it, and He will … constantly. Because God’s grace is not simply reserved for those of us who are open to it and willing to take it in, it isn’t just for the good soil. God’s grace is for the broken, the hurt, the angry, God’s grace is for the sinners – which ultimately we all are – it is for those who don’t want to be told that God loves them or that He even exists. And the beautiful thing about this is that even though for anyone else it would be so heart-breaking to be constantly pouring out their love and dedication to no avail that they may feel that they don’t want to do so any more, this isn’t true of God. Our sinless ways have an effect on God, of course, but he can handle the pain and heartbreak that it causes, because ultimately he loves us so much!

You can’t always see the results of God’s Grace being poured out, you may never see those results, but each and every day he is squandering his Grace, sowing the seeds with no worry about those that fall on the rocky destitute ground, it is wonderful and reckless and lavish, but He will always continue to do it. Because it may seem that what God is doing is foolish or as I said a moment ago reckless, He knows humanity better than that, He knows his love is never wasted. When you think of a rocky path and you see those times when a tiny flower has sprouted through the crack of a pavement, that is what God is always aware of. That even though nothing should grow, it doesn’t mean that it won’t. Because even though it might not seem to us that it is taking effect, it may well be.

It’s the person who in their darkest time of need says a prayer, even though they’ve never spoken to God before. It’s the person who has gone to Church every Sunday but never felt part of the community, and now finally feels able to go on the reading rota, it’s the person who when they lose someone they love feels that even though they’ve never read a bit of the Bible that their loved one is safe with God.

We should also be sowing the seeds of His Word, and we should also be doing it recklessly, almost without abandon. We can sow the seeds in our comfortable life, we can share our faith journeys with those we sit next to at Church knowing that they will agree or at least understand us, but we are called to do so much more.

Sowing God’s word means talking to people about faith when we’re not sure what they think of religion. It’s being unapologetically Christian. It’s being brave enough to answer that call from God, and physically getting up and going out and doing something about it. As scary as it is, as unsure as we are, as often as we may not plant that seed in the right place, we have the great and incredible privilege of knowing that when we have used all of the seed God has given us to sow, He is right there, ready to give us more tools, ready to pick us up and dust us off, ready to send us back out to plant the seed.

There will always be times in our lives when we are the rocky path, when we are “uncultivated land”, but God will simply guide us, care for us, nourish us. And even when we are at our lowest, we should always feel called to walk alongside God, lavishing his Grace upon others, showering others with his love, squandering his wonderful gifts recklessly amongst His people. And we should do it, knowing that no matter where that seed lands, no matter how little grows, God will be always there, planting, tending to us as a gardener does to his beloved roses, patiently scattering that seed and sharing the Word, no matter how slowly it takes root.

Amen.

 

When you gotta go…

I just wanted to say something…

I don’t care where you pee!

I mean, I’d really care if it was against my front door, or on the bus (a drunk man once did this on the Megabus from Brighton to Boro, six hour journey smelling like wee, hateful!) but honestly I just don’t see why anyone is concerned about where transgender people do their business.

So as far as I can see, the standpoint of the anti-trans group is that if we allow male to female transgender people to use women’s bathrooms, then the “real” women run the risk of being assaulted. I don’t understand this view, it seems to suggest that all transgender people are ultimately brutish thugs who relish any opportunity to knock a woman about, and quite frankly, that is ridiculous.

The other issue that was brought up was that this would encourage non-transgender males to dress as women so that they could go into the bathroom and assault women. Again… what?!

Firstly, if men had this burning desire then they could do it regardless of the transgender bathroom laws, it isn’t like a rule breaking psychopath is waiting for it to become legal for him to be in the bathroom before he dons a dress for the sole purpose of hurting women. Secondly, I think this opinion is disgracefully anti-male. Why assume that all men are secretly desperate to commit horrible acts of violence?

The other way I think that this discussion is unfair to men, is that no one is suggesting that female to male transgender people will be a threat to men in a male bathroom. Well, as ridiculous as the whole argument is anyway, you can’t just assume it’s only men that are violent and dangerous.

When I go to the loo, I pay literally zero attention to who else is in there (apart from when I was at Uni and would tell the girl at the mirror next to me “I Looooove your dress”). Perhaps I’m not paying enough attention, but I seriously don’t think I would notice the gender of the people in the bathroom.

The other problem here is I think, a lazy discrimination that assumes that we would all be able to tell if a person was transgender. HAVE YOU SEEN LAVERNE COX?! She is literally stunning, she’s beyond beautiful, and she looks exactly like a woman… because she is!! I would have never have assumed she wasn’t. So unless you’re going to take a very close look – and that assumes that the person hasn’t had any surgical procedures – then you would have no way of identifying that person’s birth gender.

That argument, however, assumes that all transgender people have the financial ability to fund treatments and hormones and operations, and I think that’s where it falls down, as it assumes it’s ok for “convincing” trans people, but not for those who either can’t or don’t want to pay a lot of money to make themselves “look more female”. (All of this I have massive issues with, it opens up to what feminine is, women who looks masculine, stereotypical gender roles etc. and I could go on forever about it, so I admit I’m being rather basic in this particular post).

The issues always seem to be about violence, sexual assault, and children. Those are the reason we shouldn’t allow transgender people to use the bathroom that they identify that they need to use.

So, violence… I was once in Reflex in York on a fancy dress night out, and my female friend went to the female toilets and was punched by another female because she thought she was stupid for dressing up. No men, no transgender people, no logic was involved in this altercation, so really we should assume that it is never truly safe to go to a public loo, and should all cross our legs until we get home.

Sexual assault is something that many women (and men) are concerned about, walking home late at night, when you’re drunk, when you just simply exist, but I don’t see how we are any safer if we keep to the gender norm bathrooms, and I certainly don’t think that it is any safer for a transgender female to be in a male bathroom if we assume that the threat of sexual assault is so high. I find it strange that people always seem to be worried about what the transgender person will do, when I have seen so many reports of post op transgender women being forced to serve time in male prisons and as a result they have been assaulted daily.

Apparently you only deserve safety if you were born a woman (and even then it’s not exactly guaranteed).

And finally, children… I love children, they’re fun, mischievous, interesting. They also have no concept of gender “normality”. I feel that if you told a group of five year olds that the lady in front of them used to be a man, the chances are you would get a cursory “oh ok” and then they’d go back to whatever it was they were doing/chasing/trying to eat/colouring.

Children don’t care. It is society that teaches them to fear the “abnormal”, we tell them what is right and what is standard and so they take that on. So we should be telling them that being a nice person is right, that sharing is right, that making people feel happy is right. And we’re selling these kids short if while we’re doing all of this, we’re taking away someone’s fundamental human rights.

We’re not going to terrify kids by letting transgender people into their bathrooms, they won’t care or notice, and they’re at no higher risk anyway. When I was little, if I was just with my Dad, I would have to use the men’s bathroom because I couldn’t go on my own and my Dad couldn’t use the ladies. I was fine!

I lied at the beginning of this post. I do care where people pee. I care very much. I care because people should be allowed to use a bathroom that is for the gender that they identify with, I care because people shouldn’t be judged on what a small minority consider abnormal, I care because people are so concerned with other people’s business that they can’t even comprehend that no one wants to hang about in a stinky public toilet, they want to go in, pee, and get out.

I sincerely hope that people start to realise just how ridiculous this all is, and just let people do their business in peace (except of course the drunk man on the Megabus, he should be shamed for weeing on my left shoe!!!)

Second after Trinity Sermon.

The concept of having a calling is one that I feel quite passionate about. It seems that often people will refer to a calling or a vocation as something singularly linked to Holy Orders. If someone has a calling then it must be to Ordination or the Religious life. Sometimes this is the case, as many of you will know looking at the ever growing numbers of Ordinands in our congregation.

But what I think is evident in both of the readings this evening is that every single one of us has a calling, a vocation, a duty, and don’t worry, it is not necessarily one that calls you to be a vicar.

Callings come to all sorts of different people at all sorts of different times. Samuel, for instance, is just a boy when the Lord calls to him, and Paul was in the midst of persecuting Christians when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. It is not always when we expect or what we expect, but a calling is there.

I have always liked the story of God calling Samuel, as it reminds me a little bit of when I was a child trying to avoid going to bed. I would have given my parents every excuse in the book to get an extra ten minutes before I had to go to sleep – something which I look back on now and regret, these days I’m over the moon with the prospect of an early night. How very sad.

The story of Samuel reminds me of all of those nights bringing up excuses, “I need a glass of water, I’m not tired, I can’t sleep without a bedtime story” and most often “why does my brother get to stay up later than me?” the cries of the hard done by younger sibling!

So when Samuel is constantly getting up all night, going to Eli and asking him why he is calling him, I think of the frustrated faces of my poor parents who just wanted some peace and quiet. But there is a huge difference between my rubbish excuses and whiney complaints, and Samuel’s reasons for being out of bed way past bedtime.

God chooses in this particular moment to call a young person to his service; something which we will see again in the new testament when His angel appears to a virgin girl in Nazareth. And Samuel – due to the fact he does not know the Lord, and the word of the Lord has not yet been revealed to him – assumes that it is Eli calling his name.

And this is where another act of calling comes in. Eli, the Priest, suddenly realises what is happening. Samuel doesn’t understand that it is the Lord calling him, but Eli does, and he gives him instruction so that the call is answered. It is often that our skills and our talents are needed to encourage the call of others. To be able to discern in them the gifts that God has given to them, and to be able to show them what they might not see in themselves.

Often our calling, our gifts, are realised by others a long time before we realise them ourselves. It’s a human frailty; we see the good in others, but often in a self-deprecating way don’t manage to see what we have to offer.

We may not feel like we have much to offer God, or that the talents we have are not holy enough, or useful enough, or even talents at all. But as Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians, “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

God hasn’t just randomly skipped over you. He hasn’t decided that you don’t need to offer anything or that you’re not worth bothering with. He has given to all of us the gift of his grace, the most precious and wonderful gift that we could ever imagine. And when we are given a gift this awesome, we have a responsibility to utilise it.

As Paul says, Christ gave us the Apostles and the Evangelists to equip his people for works of service. It is not a passive statement. The years of tradition and evangelism that have come from the Apostles is something that we should be actively using now.

The thing is, often, this concept is mildly terrifying. Samuel is afraid to tell Eli about his vision – admittedly because it is pretty bad news – but deciding that you are actively going to do God’s work seems like a pretty daunting prospect; except, we are often doing God’s work without really realising it. Not every Christian is a Saint Paul or a Mother Theresa or a Martin Luther King, but every Christian has a duty and as Paul explains, this duty is to, “speak the truth in love”. From that simple action, he goes on to tell us that we will grow to become like Christ. We will grow to be the body of the Church.

That final sentence in our Epistle is really beautifully put. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.”  It gives me images of muscles and tendons and ligaments moving fluidly to lift an arm or to take a step. And that is what each of us are doing to the body of the Church. Every discussion we have about faith, every time we chat to a new member of the congregation, or tell someone why we go to Church, every act of witness, sharing of the Gospel, charitable deed or kind action is an act of God’s grace and it is doing so much to build up the kingdom of God, perhaps without us even noticing.

Let us give thanks to God for the many great gifts He has blessed us with. For our faith, our talents, our love, and our lives. Let us pray that He will help us see the calling within ourselves, and respond to it with courage and determination. Let us ask him to inspire us to bring out the grace in others, to support those who are finding their calling difficult. As Saint Paul says, “there is one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all”, which means he is with us, and in us, every single step of the way. God would not ask more of us than we can achieve and he sees in us so much more potential than we can see in ourselves. Most importantly we must remember that all things are possible through Christ. He is moving through us, assisting us, leading us and supporting us, through whatever it is we are called to do.

Why it’s ok to mourn the death of a celeb…

Well, 2016 is off to a terrible start when it comes to celebrity deaths. Within four days both David Bowie and Alan Rickman have passed away, and for many people this has hit incredibly hard.

In the last hour almost every tweet or facebook post I have seen has been dedicated to Alan Rickman. From the Potterheads, to the Die Hard fans, those who swooned at the prospect of him in Sense and Sensibility, even those who aren’t quite sure they’ve forgiven him for breaking Emma Thompson’s heart in love actually, messages of grief and sadness are pouring in. And the same happened with Bowie… people shared their favourite songs, re-watched the Labyrinth, and told of how his music inspired them.

This tends to happen when a big name dies, the public grieve together. So far, I haven’t seen the articles yet, the articles I’m waiting for that always come when someone well known dies. The articles that pick people apart for being sad when someone they don’t know has died.

But the thing is, in some way, we do feel like we know them.

Of course we all know that we don’t feel the same sadness that friends and family of the deceased feel, and we know that we don’t have the personal connection that we would have should a friend of ours die, but there’s really no reason to assume that that stops us from being sad.

This is the point of art and music and films and books. They are meant to ignite passion and love and interest. They are meant to make us feel like we know the artist or character.

When I was eight years old my Auntie and Grandad bought me the first and second Harry Potter books for Christmas, and from that point I was completely hooked. Long before the films came out I felt an emotional connection to the people in the pages. I felt like I identified with Hermione, kind of had a crush on Draco, and was a bit scared of the infamous potions master.

*spoiler alert* (if you’re really, really behind)

The moment Severus Snape died in the Deathly Hallows, my heart broke a little bit. I knew he wasn’t a bad guy really, I knew he wouldn’t deceive Dumbledore like that, I just knew. I had this incredible emotional attachment to the stories, they taught me about friendship and love and despair. They taught me never to judge a person based on their appearance. They taught me that it is totally ok to love a fictional character.

When the films came out, I already had a pretty  strong idea in my head of what I wanted the characters to be. Some I was disappointed in (controversial, but Helena for Bellatrix made me fume) but one, one was completely perfect.

Alan Rickman as the dark and cynical potions master with a deep seething loathing aimed at a teenage wizard. He was everything. The accent, the fluid motions, the eyebrow raises, the slow pauses mid sentence. Everything he did was exactly what I wanted to see. And so I went from adoring the character in my head, to the character on screen.

I think what’s really important about grieving a celebrity, is that each person who tweets, comments, or blogs, has a different reason for being sad.

So many people have been writing about Bowie and the way he blurred the lines of gender roles and smashed down the ideals of traditional masculinity. It made men realise they could be whoever they felt they were, it made people see that they could redefine their sexuality. And for someone who watches a Bowie video in a tiny town, or in a family that can’t understand this, it’s a pretty big deal.

The internet has made us a population of over sharers. Emotions, big events, secrets and sometimes arguments are plastered all over the internet for anyone to read. But the cynical responses that irritate me are the ones that assume we aren’t allowed to feel things.

“Why post that on twitter about Alan Rickman, you didn’t even know him!” But in my own way, I did. I knew that he was the only good part in a terrible Robin Hood film. I knew that he would love Lily Potter “always”. I knew that he made a mistake in Love Actually, that he had been “the classic fool”, and that I would always feel sad that he had bought that stupid necklace.

Celebs, characters, authors, painters, theologians, playwrites, singers… they all touch our lives in one way or another. They make us feel things we didn’t expect. They help us through tough times. They teach us who we are.

Grief is confusing and different for everyone. One person may grieve the death of their dog whilst another may never understand why you’re sad over an animal. But grief in whatever form is justified.

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people this week are incredibly sad, that two wonderful legends have been taken away by an awful disease. I’m sure Alan Rickman, Bowie, Leonard Nimoy and Lemmy would find it pretty cool that so many people respected them, loved their work, and saw them as idols. Sharing stories of inspiration, favourite films, best interviews and more is a lovely way to commemorate a persons life, regardless of the fact that you never got to meet them.

For me, today is a sad day. And I think it’s ok to be sad.

“Look…at…me…” he whispered. The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.”

In defence of the “boring relationship”. 

So there’s a new buzfeed video out. Here’s the link… 
http://www.buzzfeed.com/stevenkanter/this-short-about-relationships-will-give-you-all-the-feels?utm_term=.efpkJaKnDz

So basically it’s pointing out that relationships all end up being boring and same-y. I watched this video, and at first sort of giggled, then worried. Oh god. What if I am in that boring relationship?! 

I sit and watch films, I eat takeaways, I have standard nights in, and I do all of this with my boyfriend. Am I in a boring couple?! 

I started to worry that perhaps my day-to-day was not good enough, that like the video suggests, we should be doing so much more. But actually I’ve decided not. 

I love my boyfriend. I love his optimism for life, his incredible support of me and my vocation, his silly grin that annoys me when I know he’s forgotten to do something or he is purposely trying to annoy me. And yet, we don’t go out on wild nights, we have yet to travel the world (I’m not sure we ever will, hostels fill me with dread and I’d miss my mum), and we definitely spend far too much time with a pizza and a glass of wine in front of the telly. 

But you know what? I’ve decided this is love. If you spend every single boring night of your life with the same person, and you’re still happy to do so, that can’t be bad right? If you’re not bothered about planning elaborate evenings or you don’t get cross that they suggest a night in rather than flying you to Paris for the weekend, if you enjoy each others company without external help, then surely you’re doing ok. 

So I’m sticking up for the boring couples. The take away couples. The run of the mill dull life couples. Because often when your life is very day to day you will be surprised when the boyfriend treats you to dinner out or you will love your holiday that much more. 

I think I’m happy with being in a routine. Happy to be mildly average. Because when I get home and cannot think of anything better than getting cosy on the sofa with a film (that we will talk through) and food that we had only the other day (if we like risotto then why not have it twice a week) then I know that the person I do all of this with is making me oh so very happy. 

I’m defending the boring, ordinary couples. I like going to tesco for a big shop, I like arguing over who washed up last, I like putting away my boyfriends clothes and doing silly little things to show my love. 

So rock on boring couples. I reckon we’re doing g alright. And to the boyfriend… I don’t want to go backpacking in Australia… I don’t want to be impulsive… Let’s just order a dominos and see what Disney film we haven’t already watched in the last 6 weeks! You’re the best for being boring with me. 

The Church and the homeless…

I recently read an article about a Vicar in Oxford threatening the homeless with court action because they wouldn’t leave the church garden and had pitched up tents, I assume they were planning a lengthy-ish stay. This has, obviously, prompted a huge backlash.

Scores of people have jumped onto the Independent’s comment section to quote the bible and to shame this vicar for not doing what Jesus would do. Of course many of the scriptural references are wholly accurate… Matthew 25:35-45 for example, and it is obvious that the church has a responsibility to help those who are in need, this I am not denying.

The problem is, it becomes all too difficult when you find that you are putting others at risk. The church in question has a children’s choir that uses the garden after rehearsals, and it is unacceptable to expect them to be put at risk of harm when there are needles etc. strewn around. Not to mention the fact that often very little is known about the past history of the homeless. I am not for one second suggesting that all homeless people are criminals or have sketchy pasts, but if we ensure our vicars, church wardens, and children’s group leaders have DBS checks, then it is only fair to have a certain amount of caution when it comes to strangers.

I find it unfair that the vicar of this church has become a scapegoat for the church not doing its job. You will find that most churches, if not the vast majority, have things in place to assist the homeless. Many will have regular food and clothing drives, lots tend to host homeless people during the winter, not to mention those who give financial support to shelters and charities working to assist those who need it.

It also must be noted that often, though not always, those who are on the street have very complex mental issues, awful,  pasts, and sometimes extremely severe addictions. It is unfair to expect clergy and church goers to know how to deal with such complex issues, which is why many will refer people to street life teams, hostels, local government etc. Surely it is much better for them to have the help they need.

Of course I am not suggesting that churches close the doors to the homeless and never look back, more often than not the guys who come to our church simply want a cuppa and a bit of friendly chat, all of which I am happy to give. But it isn’t always that simple.

Without sounding too pretentious, we also should remember that the church is for everyone, middle class, wealthy people and the poor and downtrodden. That, of course, means those who are maybe on the fringe of society, but it also means those who come to church every Sunday,  those who pop in to pray, the children and the choir. All of these people matter equally to the church and to the Lord. Which is why  if people are feeling threatened or nervous, this must be taken into account.  Perhaps meetings to discuss homelessness, so that it removes some of the fear or uncertainty? Maybe have someone from a shelter come in for a chat.  The vast majority of the time, there is absolutely no need to fear, I learned this lesson when I started the homelessness project last year. More often than not it is simply a case of someone who has fallen on hard times and needs a bit of care, but there is a certain sensibility in caution.

It is imperative that the church works to assist those who need it most, that is the living breathing gospel,  but I think it is unfair to jump to criticism when a priest is trying to find a balance between helping the needy, and ensuring the safety of the congregation. Neither is more important than the other, but in this particular case, when needles are being found and drugs being sold, I side with the vicar. It is unsafe and potentially an absolute nightmare. That’s not to say they should be simply thrown out on their ear, but passing on their case to someone who can help them and care for whilst ensuring the safety of others is, I feel, a sensible option.

As for those commenting about the church and “what would Jesus do” there are many ways you can join in and help. Many churches support the foodbanks, run homeless projects, and provide food or clothing for those who need it. I’m sure they would be very grateful for donations or your time.

It’s an incredibly difficult balance to keep, there is a great responsibility to do good,  to be Christlike, and there is a responsibility to care for those in your parish. Often we don’t necessarily get this right, but I think it’s unhelpful to just criticise and slander those who are trying without having been in their shoes.