Why don’t we like children?

The news tells us today that life in the UK is not good for children. Having just returned from mainland Europe I can only agree. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by raising families out of poverty (though that will help); it isn’t going to be solved by improved schooling (though of course education is vital to every child); this is a problem of attitude.

In Spain last week a number of complete strangers, usually men, ruffled the top of my youngest son’s head. Each time it happens I expect him to go ballistic – he hates people touching him! But somehow they seem to get away with it. Why? Because they did it unthinkingly, with confident love of a child, any child, and without any need for reaction. And youngest tolerates it quite happily.

Not many men in England would confidently touch a child they didn’t know – we have robbed them of a natural relationship with children, by suspicion and ridiculous, (almost always) unfounded fear. And we behave as though children were a problem, not a joy. The two elderly ladies who muscled in front of a family with two young children getting off the flight had tutted about the noise from the children through the journey. Then they didn’t even have the common sense to let them off a crowded plane. How daft was that?

Jesus was the exemplar of behaviour with children.  The child brought into the midst of the crowd by Jesus was not humiliated, not made to answer adult questions, just placed near to a safe man, and looked at in love. It was clearly a good place to be, or the kid would have kicked up a fuss.  

Have you been to church lately – too many children kicking up a fuss, because church is often not a good place to be! I’m sure your church is wonderful with children – I wish more people in some places  acted as though they valued children. It could change our churches.  It could even change society’s attitude to children. Showing children that we like them could make all the difference.

Gender stereotyping!

I’ve had a strange experience this week – a throw back to my teens. I’ve been doing an MA module in Theological and Practical Reflection at Cranmer Hall, and this week gave my seminar. We spent 3 days listening to each other reflect theologically and practically on a variety of fascinating and weirdly diverse subjects. Neither giving the seminar nor listening to others was in itself the strange thing. No – the week was strange because I was the only woman in a group of men.

That might not be odd for your circumstances, but for me, working in an all woman team and in the company of far more women that men, it was strange to go back to challenging gender stereotypes. Not that the other students were patriarchal, or discriminatory. I did not feel at any time that I was being patronised or excluded (can you imagine anyone trying?), but it was strange that I felt I needed to represent woman-kind!

When I was in my late teens at university I was an assistant deputy chapel warden (yes, really – I meant I covered the early morning communion services for the important chapel wardens), and discussions on chapel committee centred on inclusive language. The church has moved on from that discussion (at least a bit) but how interesting to be right back in the classic “stroppy cow” Dana mode! I was very good and well behaved on the whole, but it was fun to have something so easy to push against.

Dying with Dignity

I’m not a fan of reality TV. I see enough confusion and humiliation in my job without watching it on my day off.  However, who could fail to be moved by the life and death of Jade Goody. She was a poorly educated woman who made the most of every opportunity given to her, a modern example of a fairy tale. I worked with someone today who said they were just like Jade – big mouthed, and big hearted. She was, they though, like a modern Princess Diana.  

But until a few months ago, Jade was a figure of scorn and an exemplar of ignorance. She only became universally popular to a certain generation when she received her terminal diagnosis of cancer. Those who had poured scorn on her until recently, embraced her in her last illness. Why? Because we live in a society with a generation of young adults who don’t know anything about death, and for whom Jade has become a mentor on that journey.

A remarkable number of young people have never been to a funeral, never seen a dead body, never spent time with someone who is dying.  Their vision is confused by inexperience.  For them, death is a frightening unknown, stalking the world of the elderly; death happens when you get old, not when you are young; when you are young you are immune – and if something does go wrong it must be someone’s fault!

So thank God for the example that Jade has played out in the media spotlight. She has been an exemplar of how to have a ‘good’ death. She provided financially for her sons, and put her affairs in order. She was ready spiritually and emotionally to say good-bye. She did not keep her children at a distance from her death, nor the cameras.  

So this generation have some idea of what dying and death can bring. They have seen a courageous young woman coming to terms with and accepting the foreshortening of her life with dignity. I hope she has made provision for her children to attend her funeral, so that in time they will approach death without the ignorance of fear. She has done a real service to her generation – God speed, Jade, and rest in peace.

Choice is a misnomer

Youngest son threw me into confusion on Wednesday by having a ?fit?faint in school.  It was a most effective way to get out of a telling off from his teacher, but led to me spending a happy day in hospital while they checked every aspect of his anatomy for anomalies.  Of course, and happily, there were none.  Different people are freaked by different things.  I don’t mind blood at all, but youngest son completely flipped when the nurse did a pinprick test on his finger.  He speaks of that, and giving urine, as the worst pars of the day.

What struck me was the “choice” given to my six year old.  ‘Would you mind if….’ ‘May I…’ even ‘Please can I…’ The three doctors we saw all gave him the option to let a complete stranger look in his ears/down his throat/push on his tummy.  And of course, being the sensible six year old that he is, he said, ‘NO!’ But really there was no choice.  He needed to be checked out, so that next time he needs to be reprimanded, he won’t throw us into a panic again by passing out (only joking!).

Presumably this patient choice thing is so deep rooted in the culture that it is difficult to recognise when appropriate options goes too far.  Youngest didn’t have a choice about the examination – as his parent I might have had choice, but I wanted him checked out.  So no matter how often he said ‘no’ it happened anyway.  Which completely undermines the notion of choice.  Which defeats the point of giving it.

Finally one doctor saw sense, and stopped asking.  The examinations completed, the medics decided this was a one off, and sent us home. I learnt that next time (if there is one), I’ll tell them not to pretend he has a choice. He will submit to the pin prick, because he is six, and his mother says so.

Life after life after death

As so often happens on a long country walk, we began to talk theology. What, my son mused, would heaven be like? A number of options were presented. Perhaps it would mean sitting on a fluffy cloud, playing a harp? My dad thought that sounded unrelentingly dull. Or maybe heaven would come to earth when justice and peace are restored to all. Not likely to happen this side of the parousia, said my punning sister!

Tom Wright’s book on heaven, Surprised by Hope, makes fascinating reading. Those who long for their very own cloud will be disappointed. Working for global justice and world peace will not bring about salvation, but is ‘anticipating in the present’ what we hope for in the future. At the end of time, all our work today will be transformed, with all time, space and matter. And +Tom is sure that our salvation will be bodily – we will rise with Jesus in a physical sense. Wow. It’s hard not be be facetious, and hope that God will redeem my eyesight and big bum.

This then is our impetuous to continue to look, work, pray and act to bring the kingdom on earth. We do it knowing that God has begun to bring in the new heaven and new earth (because Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruit of the new creation), and in anticipation of time when that kingdom will be fully revealed. It’s all very encouraging to a workaholic like me, who really does hope that my labour is not in vain.

Best of all, my favourite passage in the book suggests that, not just our skills and talents but our likes, loves and interests will be enhanced, ennobled, in fact rescued in an ultimate act of salvation, to be used to God’s glory. YES! I will be able to sing, drive fast and read scary books in the new creation – Adrian will be able to fly, garden and wear cruddy shoes (well, maybe not that) – and my dad won’t have to learn to play the harp. Hallelujah! A heaven like that is worth waiting for, and maybe even believing in.

Women in the Episcopacy

The Church of England took another small step towards consecrating women as bishops today.  It’s been 30 years since the Synod agreed that there was no theological bar to women’s ordination.  Now we have got onto the process of making it happen.  We cannot accuse the C of E of acting in haste. As the Catholics and Orthodox have already told us, if they were going to ordain women they would have STARTED with bishops.  Still, at this rate, we might have women bishops by 2015.  And that’s going quickly, for Synod and Parliamentary legislation!

I thought the debate today was careful, considered and considerate.  But then, I didn’t have much problem with the July debate, and the bishops lost the plot over that (see previous post).  There were a few wonderful quotes from the debate:

  • we should welcome women to the episcopate for the sake of the kingdom
  • I can’t compel people to be in communion with me – if they choose not to be, then God bless them, and God bless me too
  • a code of conduct (as opposed to protective legislation) will not allow ministry to flourish – one is left asking, who’s ministry?
  • and, those opposed in conscience cannot stay in the C of E

The latter is really the crux of the matter.  If those who oppose women in ministry cannot ever accept the authority of a woman bishop, what does that do for the authority of the episcopacy.  Most of those ordained clergy on Synod who are opposed, were ordained after the Synod agreed on its theology in the 70s.  Even more so, those ordained since 1992 knew the theological statements of the church they were being ordained into.

Another generation of women are going to be too old to become the superb bishops we know they can be. The sword of time hangs over their heads, just as the sword of Damocles hangs over those who are opposed.  No wonder someone else commented today that there was little joy in this debate.  We have had it too many times, and with the taint of too much guilt and pain, for there to be real joy.  But there will be, one day…

Chill in the north

I’ve never seen snow from the train that spans the country – from Durham to London, houses, fields and roads are covered by inches of snow.  It seems ironic that this is the one news item uniting the country at the moment.  I’m on the way to General Synod, and bracing myself for the southern factor.  I am sure that in London papers and news broadcasts, the impression will be given that the brunt of recession is being felt in the south.

The southern factor, the bias that is shown by the media to the ‘poor’ bankers in London, and the myth that the recession is felt mostly in London, is false.  Statistics show that actually there have been more job losses, more short working weeks, more factories and businesses closing in the north east than anywhere else in the country.

And as ever, it is those who are least likely to have a buffer against recession that suffer most.   Imagine a family where both parents work, where one is told a few weeks before Christmas that they are going to have to accept a short working week, and a subsequent drop in salary.  To pay for the presents already bought on credit, the other partner takes on more work, only to be told by her company that they too are in financial meltdown.   Happy Christmas indeed.

So next time you read about the problems in the south, remember that the north had them first, and does them more comprehensively.  Not something to boast about, but something the media should remember.

What is literate?

I overheard a wonderful exchange at work today, in the education department:

“What are you doing?’

“Reading a book”


“Because I’m not illiterate, like you!”

“Ugh.  I don’t understand…”

What more can I say?  Except perhaps that the book was Shakespeare, and the woman reading was looking for his swear words.  Never doubt that my work is seriously surreal 🙂

Say that again

Isn’t communication an interesting thing.  Today our 6 year old had a friend come to play – this classmate is deaf, and the two children communicated well, with improvised sign language, nods, pushes and shoves, a certain amount of lip reading etc.  I remember communicating in the same way with my German cousin at the same kind of age.  Words become more important as I get older, and I pride myself on crafting them well.  So it’s curious to be thrown back onto improvisation and enunciation.

Funny how words like ice-cream can be communicated to children of any age or ability, whereas ‘sit down and eat your tea’ takes a little longer.  For me, words like ‘would you like a glass of….’ and ‘have some chocolate’ have a similar effect.  Maybe Jesus was right, and listening is mostly about hearing.

I’ve just joined Facebook, which was sold to me as a way of communicating, which it is, but only after a fashion.  Conversations over the last two days have centred around marmalade and the making thereof, the problem of parents and associated teenage frustrations, and the ability of those who have not been together for as long as Adrian and I have to snuggle down together for the evening, without interruption from children.

Hardly high level communication.  However, so far FB has either been communication with people who live at the other end of the country, so I almost never see let alone talk to them (some form of communication is better than none) or with teenagers, who communicate best without needing to look me in the eye.

Communication on a higher level is probably overrated.  Perhaps the minutiae of life is all we really need to make community and communication happen.  A friend recently asked, “who is my FB neighbour?’  Perhaps in cyberspace, it’s whoever has time to listen.

Oh, and do feel free to sign me up as a friend!

Joyfully Yours…

… or, life’s too short to stuff a turkey!  I’ve put a blank poster on the wall entitled “This is what makes me joyful at Christmas!”  It is my attempt to fight back against the seasonal pressure that I feel is upon me to cook the ‘right’ dinner, buy the ‘right’ presents, create the ‘right’ atmosphere, so that we have a ‘perfect’ Christmas.  I’ve invited everyone who comes to the house to add something, to join our own contributions.

So far, Christmas is made joyful by

  • Christmas lunch at school with Miles (they put the sprouts on to boil last week, I believe)
  • smoked salmon
  • opening presents in front of the fire
  • lie-ins (guess which teenager wrote that!)
  • getting up early on a frosty morning to walk the dog
  • decorating the tree
  • 9 Lessons and Carols
  • and Miles coming home (despite the school report that they give us at 5pm on Christmas day!)

Food is obviously very important, because of the number of contributions in that area, but the hopes are as much to do with the joy of eating simple things as to do with recipes for perfection – mince pies and brandy butter, chocolate, fishcakes (wierd – don’t know who put that on 🙂 and champagne.

Lots of people like the atmosphere – opening presents around the fire, wishing it would snow and then it snowing, Midnight Mass and candlelight.  Or relationships – seeing friends, opening presents in front of the fire, grandchildren, ‘the love in the air’.  And one thought that made my day (yes, I’m a sucker for such things!) – mum’s smile.

I love Christmas.  And I love that my family don’t mind (very much) about perfect presents, perfect menus and an unrealistic perfect atmosphere.  So I’m off to decorate the tree.

Very joyfully yours… Dx