Sunday, 13 March 2016

The blight of austerity



13 March 2016

An open letter to Mr Osborne & Mr Hunt

I thought it would be good to write to you both during budget week, to help you with the reality and impact of your decisions.  I do this because I don't think you really understand the situation you are creating, as you will never go through what I am going through. 

I am 51 years old and have worked all my life. I am currently in hospital battling a rare blood cancer. During the two weeks I have been in hospital there has not been a single day where there has been the full number of staff. The set numbers are 5 trained staff and 3 HCA's. Yesterday there were only 2 trained staff and 1 HCA. Despite being so understaffed, these 3 dedicated professionals worked their socks off to make sure patients were not too affected by the lack in numbers. They were fantastic and deserve a medal. They were smiley and upbeat every time I pressed my call bell. Each time I did this I apologised because I knew how busy they were but they just brushed it off with a cheery "no worries, how can I help?"

Just before I became ill with neutropenic sepsis I had the paperwork through to apply for PIP as my DLA is coming to an end. The form arrived on the 8 March but was dated 1 March. I can't help but think that is a cynical attempt to push people out of time to apply. Getting back to the application. I am worried sick that I will lose some or all of this vital benefit to me. DLA has enabled me to continue to work and I am scarred I may end up having to give up work because of a lack of supportive benefit to keep me there. 

I work full time in a secondary school and I see the decimation caused by austerity. We have been pruned so severely and so have all the supportive services around us. It is almost making the system unmanageable. My school has a much higher proportion of young people with challenging lives. Much has been in the media recently about the importance of mental health and children and young people. My experience is its almost impossible to get the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service to even take a referral yet alone give a service. The same is true for Social Services who often expect us as a school to do what they should be doing. 

So while I lay in my hospital bed I worry that I will become too expensive a patient. I worry that when I need help there will not be sufficient staff numbers to treat me well enough in order to maintain my dignity and respect. I worry  that I will not get my PIP and will have to give up work and I am deeply concerned for the future of Education and the NHS.

I am not an economist or a brilliant academic but it seems to me there is a simple solution. Why will you not consider putting up tax and/or national insurance by a penny or two for everyone? I would happily pay more tax to protect the important institutions of the NHS and Education. I do not understand why you fail to do this time and time again. You continue to cut but do nothing to put more into the system. You give tax breaks to those with more money and take away or make more difficult disability benefits. You are both called Right Honourable. I do not see what is right or honourable about what you are doing. It seems it's all about keeping you in government rather than doing the right thing. 

I wait with dread for the outcome of the budget but write in the hope of appealing to your humanity. Please stop and reconsider before austerity goes too far and blights the life of ordinary working people like me who will then end up on benefit rather than continuing to work. 

Yours faithfully,


Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Sermon of hope


May my words be in the name of the living God. Creating, redeeming and sustaining. Amen.



Wow what a term. I’m really pleased to have managed to get to the end of it in one piece. I’ve had 4 Carol Services, 2 primary school performances and 2 evening performances of our Christmas production in the last 2 weeks. Friday I had the moving job of delivering food parcels to some of our most needy families. I hate the fact that these things have to be done in this day and age.



Like many of you I'm shattered and wondering what I can still get out of the Christmas story that will give me light and life.

So let’s have a look at today’s gospel which concentrates on Mary and see where the Holy Spirit takes us.

Those of you that have been around for a while, do you remember when I first came here and I said I love that bit where Jesus says, "Does anything good come out of Nazareth?" I joked and said I felt the same about when it came to me coming from Woolwich. Well, it's all too easy to forget that Mary comes from Nazareth too and she was probably only just old enough to have a child so still full of all those teenage insecurities.

If we think about that being the back drop to Gabriel's greeting about her being the favoured one. Her response is quite rational she is perplexed and greatly troubled. She is probably thinking "who is this eejit? Doesn't he realise I come from one of the worst slums around here. How on earth can I be favoured?” Well words to that effect anyway.



Then we can also look at it from Gabriel's point of view too. A fella called Frederick Buechner in his book peculiar treasures put's it like this “She struck the angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, and who he was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. And as he said it, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath the great, golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl.”



Ooh don't you just love that, that the whole future of creation now hung on the answer of a girl. Imagine all the angels gathered around, looking down, holding their collective breath. “What will she say? Will she do it? C’mon, Mary, say yes!” Because they all know the way God works is only by allowing people freely to answer “yes.”



Freedom of choice and the exercise of free will is so important to God, who would never force a “yes” from anyone.



During Advent we are encouraged to prepare. We prepare ourselves for God's arrival amongst us and for the light that shines in the darkness. If we haven’t already done so we can prepare ourselves to say, along with Mary, our own “yes”: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” These are words that change everything. It might be we need to say it again over another issue.



So at some point in Mary's exchange with the archangel she starts to relax and we get this brave yes, this leap of faith out into the unknown. All of us at some point have to takes leaps of faith. It reminds me of that quote that a bird doesn't have faith in the branch it stands on but faith in its own ability to fly should the branch break. Where are the areas in your life where you need to take a leap of faith? If you do, you'd be amazed how far it will take you.



Now getting to our reading I have given you all of that because it is the back drop to what happens next. This mornings reading gives us the Magnificat which follows the Annunciation. So Mary goes from being perplexed and troubled to not just talking about what God has done for her but broadening the incarnation right out. Here are those words that I have sung since being a teenager myself in churches and cathedrals all over the country. It still gives me goose bumps “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”



There are so many great statements in the Magnificat. The fact that MY soul MAGNIFIES the Lord. There is a bit of me that magnifies God’s essence. Wow how great is that? In the old version that I still sing we also hear it put like this “For he that is mighty hath magnified me” So now we have God magnifying us. Cool or what. I love the double magnification of the Magnificat. God and us working together is what really brings about the other profound statements. It is when we work together, when God and humanity is in unison that the powerful will be brought down from their thrones and we will send the rich away empty.



You don't need to be a genius to work out we are still waiting though for the rich to be sent away empty and for the lowly to be lifted up. Times of austerity seem to highlight this more so with the gap getting bigger. When we do the right thing though we build God’s Kingdom. If we pay more tax to help the needy, if we do our bit to lobby government to make sure they treat those on the margins with respect, then we continue to build God’s Kingdom.



I told the kids at school this week that there was a lot of confusion that first Christmas and it was into that mess that God chose to reveal himself. I also believe it is into this mess that God continues to believe herself.



Mary knows that the birth of the Messiah to her, a lowly Jewish peasant, is an important sign of what God’s kingdom looks like. It is in the Incarnation that we get our clearest picture of the age to come. God became flesh, not in the person of Julius Caesar or a great Egyptian Pharaoh. God became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of peasant woman in an occupied land. Without the mighty getting wind of it, they were as good as cast down from their thrones. If the newlywed wife of a carpenter is to give birth to God’s son, then the hungry are as good as having their bellies filled, for God is not only ready and willing to bring about the age to come; God is in fact already breaking the age to come into our world in acting counter to the ways of this present age. Ooh don'tcha just love the way God does things?



What does that message still have for us today? I think because of the ways God has broken into human history, we have had glimpses of a different world. Through the life of Jesus, and sometimes through his followers, we have seen how wonderful the counter cultural world of the gospel really can be. No one is too lowly, too weak, or too undesirable for God. There are no outcasts in God’s kingdom. God does not look to the outward signs of status and success, but rather God looks at the content of your heart.



Use this last week of Advent to make more room in your life for God. Take time to reflect and see if there is a “yes” you need to give to God. The more we allow God into our hearts and lives, the more we will find ourselves loving those whom God loves. Every time we reach out to others to share God’s love, we bring the age to come to life into the here and now and also every time you love and every time you give it’s Christmas. Amen

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Rebel Rev speaks out against violence to women and girls


May my words be in the name of the living God creating, redeeming and sustaining. Amen.



It’s a hard week to stand before you as a priest in the God's church after the awful atrocities that have happened recently. How do we make sense of living in such a challenging and at times violent and scary world? That is the weight I carry from being in public office.



I was so proud of my students this week as they stood in silence for a minute as I led a reflection for them over the tannoy. I so hope that they grow up in a world that is more peaceful and just. I know though deep in my heart that that will only happen if we work for it.



Today is the last Sunday of the year. The Sunday when we celebrate Christ the King. The Jesus who triumphed over the world that treated him so badly. This building gives us a visual aid in our wonderful statue depicting a huge Jesus in triumph holding the world in the palm of his hand and blessing it. Today though is also when we stop and think about violence against women and girls. There is a bit of me that wonders if all this King stuff which comes out of and is still very patriarchal props up some abuses of women. I think it's awful when people justify their bad, abusive or violent behaviour in the name of religion. That is clearly wrong. Just as an aside when you hear the terrorists described as Muslims please resist that temptation to agree. They are no more Muslims than the KKK were Christians.



Unbelievable Daesh, you will not hear me refer to them by the name they prefer because they are not Islamic and they are not a State, use rape and murder of women as a tool of war. Sadly many soldiers still do. Daesh though are taking it a step further a killing the older woman and taking their daughters and granddaughters and raping them. They then sell them as sex slaves with contracts and paper works like some horrific commodity instead of a human being. This has particularly been the case for a group of Yazidi Christian women. They are then used to try and attract more men to Daesh. Many of these women try to kill themselves because they know their strict Christianity means they will be shunned by their communities if they escape. The elders and Priests have got together and issued a decree that says these women will not be judged because of what has happed to them and since then the suicide rate has gone down.



The global problem of violence against women and girls is a blight on humanity and we must learn from it. That means more of us need to move from comfortable positions, like the Yazidi priests and speak out against it.



Bringing things back to our own setting, as you know equality and justice are things I am very passionate about, especially when it comes to violence against women and children. I remember I went on a Barnardo’s course on child prostitution once and this little quote really hit me. “Some things have to be seen to be believed” “Some things have to be seen to be believed” I guess it hit me because it’s the reverse of what Jesus says to Thomas. If you don’t believe that domestic abuse is happening here in this church, then you won’t see it. If you don’t believe any of your friends or families are in abusive relationships, then you won’t see it. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, and in all kinds of relationships - heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. People suffer domestic abuse regardless of their gender, social group, class, age, race, disability, religion, sexuality or lifestyle. The abuse can begin at any time either in new relationships or after many years spent together.



As those of you that have heard me preach on this subject before will know I have worked in and around the field of domestic abuse for over 20 years. When I speak about domestic abuse I do not use gender neutral language because to do so would deny the reality of the situation. I will talk about men as the perpetrators and women and the survivors of abuse because statistically speaking, and overwhelmingly so, that is the case. The danger in doing that is that some of you may be sitting there thinking “but what about men who experience abuse?” I accept and agree that men also experience abuse. The good practise that I talk about applies to whoever is experiencing and whoever is perpetrating the abuse. I think abuse and violence is wrong full stop.



I also want to make it clear that just because I am pro women doesnt mean I am anti-men.



Some of you may not be sure what we exactly mean by domestic abuse. The Diocesan manual called “A Safe Church” defines it as such:



“All forms of domestic abuse cause damage to the survivor, particularly to their self esteem, and express an imbalance in power in the relationship. Abuse can on rare occasions happen only once, but usually it is a systematic, repeated and often escalating pattern of behaviour by which the abuser seeks to control, limit and humiliate, often behind closed doors. Abusive behaviour can take many forms, and the following examples are not exhaustive.

Physical, psychological and emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual or neglect and isolation."



I helped write that definition and am proud of what has been done in this Diocese. Ok having laid some groundwork let’s look at the reality.



If you've never experienced domestic abuse it can be difficult to imagine just what those affected have to go through. Some of you may have heard me say this before but I think it's worth repeating.



I’m sure we all know what a bully is...

Imagine living with a bully all the time, but being too scared to leave.

Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night, being afraid to wake up in the morning.

Imagine being denied food, warmth or sleep.

Imagine being punched, slapped, hit, bitten, pinched and kicked.

Imagine being pushed, shoved, burnt, strangled, raped, beaten.

Imagine having to seek permission to go out, to see your friends or your family or to give your children a treat.

Imagine that you believe what they tell you - that it's your fault. That if only you were a better mother, lover, housekeeper, kept your mouth shut, could only keep the children quiet, dressed how they liked you to, kept in shape, gave up your job - somehow things would get better. 

Imagine being constantly told you’re ugly, useless, fat, no one would ever want you, that you would not be able to cope without him. 

Imagine their threats if you dare to say you will leave. How could you ever find the strength to leave? Will you ever be safe again?

Imagine threats to find and kill you and your children, wherever you go.

Imagine permanent injuries and sometimes death.



That is the reality that 1 in 4 women live with during their lifetime. In this country alone 2 women are killed every week by a current or former partner. Of those women that are killed 75% are killed at or around the time of leaving, so leaving is a very dangerous thing to do.



Many people ask me why do women stay in these relationships? I think that’s the wrong question because it puts the responsibility on her, we should be asking why does he do it? But going back to the original question, when a woman leaves we’ve already discovered this is the most dangerous time. What she gains from leaving is an immediate loss of her house and possessions. Maybe she has to leave her children behind, she loses her status, her pets. She loses her local support as often for safety reasons, she needs to move away. Her children have to change school. She also loses the man she fell in love with because she fell in love with a charmer not an abuser.



What she gains is a heightened risk of attack, financial worries, lack of security of tenure for a while, as refuges and hostels can keep women for up to 2 years sometimes before they go into a permanent housing. Stop I hear you cry, what about all the positives she gains. Yes she does regain her freedom and independence, her self esteem and confidence but they all take years to build up whereas her losses are immediate.



As I said it’s a complex subject, it’s not just as simple as why doesn’t she leave.



On top of all that we have a load of well meaning Christians as well as a few dodgy ones propping up the abusive situation using verses like these:



1 Tim 2: 11-14

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man. She must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.



Ephesians 5:22-24

Wives, submit to your husband’s as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.



There are hundreds or verses like this in the bible but that’s only looking at it from one perspective and not seeing it as the historical document of its own context.



I want you to remember this if you don’t remember anything else I have ever preached about or tried to teach God is a God of the living not the dead. That is the lens through which I want us to read the bible. God is a God of the living not the dead because when we are dead the wholeness of God will be revealed.



Let’s have a look at a few other verses.

I Corinthians 16:19

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Galatians 3:27-28

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.



These are just a few verses that can be used to counteract some of the other verses. Many people have those WWJD bracelets. I say instead of wondering what would Jesus do lets just do what he did. Wouldn’t our churches be great places if we did that and based ourselves on Jesus' actions and then argue about all the conflicting scriptural verses when we get to heaven and meet St Paul and some of the other authors. Come to think of it wouldn’t the synod outcomes be different if votes were based on what Jesus did rather than what we think we can do in the Church of England?



As I finish off I’d like to give you a few really important do’s and don’ts when working with people affected by domestic abuse.

Do…

  • approach her about the abuse in a sensitive way, for example by saying, ‘I’m worried about you because…’
  • believe what she tells you: it will have taken a lot for her to talk to you and trust you. You will only hear the tip of the iceberg at first
  • take the abuse seriously.
  • focus on her safety: talk to her about it and how she could protect herself
  • help her to understand that the abuse is not her fault and that no-one deserves to be abused, no matter what they do
  • inform yourselves and take the safeguarding policy seriously



Remember: if you feel overwhelmed or frightened yourself, get help.

Don’t…

  • blame her or ask judgemental questions such as, ‘What did you do to make him treat you like that?’ or ‘Why don’t you just break up with him?’
  • focus on trying to work out the abuser’s reasons for the abuse.
  • try and listen and mediate to both parties
  • recommend anger management for the abuser. He manages his anger very well. His boss annoys him then he comes home and hits his partner where it doesn’t show


Even though I became quite senior in the secular work I was doing in relation to domestic abuse, I always insisted on doing some face to face and group work. This was disconcerting at first to my colleagues, they soon got used to “the boss” working with them.



For two years there was an overlap between my theological education and being the manager of a large women’s centre. I was really glad to have the challenge of working out my theology in this context.



One of the women I was supporting was extremely religious and took her marriage vows really seriously. She felt she couldn’t leave her abusive husband because of the vows she had made in church. I tried to reassure her that her husband had broken the covenant of the marriage by the use of his violence towards her. She was having none of it. She told me her husband was the head of the household and she must submit to him. I urged her to read further into St Paul’s words and that it also says that husbands should look after their wives. Again she wasn’t convinced.



Sometimes she was so sad that tears seemed to plop straight out of her eyes without even touching her cheeks. At times like that I’d reassure her with those lovely words from Romans 8 about nothing separating us from the love of God.



One day she came to see me and had obviously taken a beating the night before. I wanted to take over and tell her what to do I was so outraged. In as calm a voice as I could manage I asked her how long she was going to put up with this. She told me that her husband had begged her to forgive him and reminded her that the Bible says you must forgive.



I then spoke to the woman that true forgiveness requires real repentance and it’s through that that we can be reconciled. She still kept saying but the bible says I must forgive 70x7 and that I must turn the other cheek. I then found out that the Pastor in their church had been working with both parties and told her she must be a dutiful wife and not provoke him and that he (the pastor) would help the husband with his anger management.



I think at that point I needed anger management and I prayed very hard for God to help me out. During my studies, at the time, we’d been looking at marriage and the most common reading during wedding ceremonies, which of course we all know, is 1 Corinthians 13. I got my bible out at this passage and said to her this was the passage that most people had in their marriage service and was a good passage for Christian marriage to be built on. She agreed. I then asked her to read it out loud but every time she came across the word love she was to substitute her husband’s name.



That would change the reading from this:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

To this:

Abuse is patient; abuse is kind; abuse is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...



It was that simple substitution of his name that made this woman see that her husband wasn’t doing his bit in the marriage or living with the most important Christian value of love. She clung to me as I reassured her that it would be alright. She stayed while I found her refuge accommodation and arranged a police escort so she could pick up her belongings.



I hope and pray that in this hurting world where women are still kept in their place using religion, that more of us can give away that love which means we can all have life and have it abundantly. Amen.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

A healing sermon dedicated to my Chosen Mum Marlene


May my words be in the name of the Living God, creating, redeeming and sustaining. Amen.



I have had a great morning with the lovely people at BBC Radio Kent. A talented 15 year old budding Jewish scholar helped me to see that God is an elephant! We discussed growing up in multifaith Britain among other stories from this weeks news including the Bishop's letter about the refugee crisis in Syria. The Bishops are asking us all to do our bit, like the 70 being sent out from today's gospel. If you were one of the 70 being sent out from this gospel reading how would you have felt? Would you be full of doubt in your own ability? Would you think “Oh my goodness I can’t travel with nothing I need my… if I’m going to be effective” What I really like about this reading is that at the heart of it is the message of healing and as we celebrate St Luke the Evangelist and healer today it's very fitting. When heading out to do a difficult task all you need is company and support. That's why they all went out in two’s.


According to psychologists, at times of crisis, humour can provide a vital way of expressing frustration at a baffling situation.

Following the problems in the global economy uncertainty has now hit Japan. In the last 7 days the Origami Bank has folded, Sumo Bank has gone belly up and Bonsai Bank announced plans to cut some of its branches. Yesterday, it was announced that Karaoke Bank is up for sale and will likely go for a song while today shares in Kamikaze Bank were suspended after they nose-dived. While the Samurai Bank are soldiering on following sharp cutbacks, Ninja Bank are reported to have taken a hit, but they remain in the black. Furthermore, 500 staff at Karate Bank got the chop and an analysts report shows that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank where it is feared that staff may get a raw deal.

Sorry for that little diversion. Laughter and humour is a really important healing tool.

What I’d really like for you all to hold onto this morning is that we are all called to be part of God’s healing process. Healing is not something that is left only to priests. It’s not just a specialism that hospital or hospice chaplains have. It's not just for the medical profession either. It’s actually an ability we all have if only we are brave enough to use it. When you put your arm around someone who is sad or give a comforting hug to someone who is stressed you are participating in that healing process. When you ring a friend who is having a tough time or invite a neighbour in for a chat over a cuppa you are part of that process. When someone dies and you see a member of the deceased family in the street and you manage to resist the urge to cross over the road and pretend you didn’t see them, you are participating in God’s healing. You don’t have to be a theologian or a scholar, or a medic, in fact you don’t have to be clever in any way. It’s good enough to say to someone “I’ve heard the awful news. I’m so sorry I don’t know what to say. How are you coping? That then gives them the opportunity to talk if they want. If you don't know what to say then just listen.

What always helps me is that God, through Jesus became flesh and dwelt amongst us. God intimately understands human suffering because Jesus suffered so much and Jesus took that knowledge with him back to God. Jesus knows the pain of the flesh as well as the anguish of the mind. That’s why I can talk to God about suffering because I know God’s been there.



I feel awful at the moment because of my raw grief at the loss of my beautiful chosen mum. I can talk to God though because I know she understands how wretched I feel.



One of the stories that sticks with me from my time as a hospital chaplain was around the family of a very sick premature baby. Despite being born 3 months early this little one had got to be 4 months old and was doing quite well. I’d been chatting to his Mum and Dad about “Big Brother”, the Football, the weather all sorts of things that gradually built up a relationship with them. They were not church goers. Unfortunately the little fella took a turn for the worst and ended up back on a ventilator again. I was just leaving my office which is some distance from the Unit when I bumped into them. They both burst into tears. I took them inside and they told me that there was no hope for their son. As they talked I gently spoke to them about a goodbye ritual. I couldn’t use a Christian framework, because that was not their belief system, but I could help them say goodbye. They decided they would go and get a drink and at my suggestion compose a letter to their son, explaining all the things they had hoped to do with him if he lived. They were waiting for grandparents to arrive so they had some time. As Mum got up to go she started to weep again. I put my arms around her and she sank to the floor. I went to the floor with her and gently held on to her. She started to say “I can’t do this again, I can’t hold another baby while he dies, I just can’t” I told her it was ok and she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to. Dad was leaning against the wall also weeping and he said that he couldn’t do it again either. The Mum turned to me and said “You give such good cuddles. Will you hold my baby while he dies?”



Inwardly I took a big gulp. Outwardly I reassured this tragically grieving couple, for whom this would be the third baby of theirs to die, that I would do anything they needed me to.



Later that night once the baby’s big sister and grandparents arrived I carried out a farewell ritual. The extended family left and I gave Mum and Dad a few minutes on their own. Mum quickly left, Dad waited a while longer then the baby was given to me and I hugged him and sang to him while he gently slipped away.



I can still see the love of God in that tragic situation and I know that couple will remember the vicar that wasn't afraid of their request. In that way I took my role of being sent out by God to share the love with the world





One of my hardest call outs was to the children’s ward. A child had suddenly and unexpectedly died. The family were, understandably, distraught. Their culture and tradition told them that if they prayed hard enough their daughter would be raised from the dead. There was a lot of commotion and wailing. The ward staff bleeped me because they didn’t know what to do. My dilemma was that this family needed to work through their rituals but not in the middle of the children’s ward. I was able to delicately move them to what I called “The Chapel of Rest” but was normally just referred to as the mortuary. I was with them for several hours as they prayed hard for demons to leave the child. They shouted and raged, they threw themselves around the floor. The whole time I kept praying psalm 139 and praying that God would give me words that although inadequate might make a difference. At one point I was on the floor cradling the Mum who had thrown herself at my feet. She was screaming. “It’s my fault, I don’t have enough faith, I’m a bad mother” As I gently rocked her I said God knew that feeling cause he watch helplessly as his son died on the cross and that just before he died Jesus doubted himself and felt abandoned by God. I encouraged her to keep telling God how awful she felt. She then sobbed in my arms for around half an hour, then just sat in utter desolation. At that point when all the raw emotion had calmed down I did an anointing and blessing ritual and commended the child to God. They then all quietly left the hospital.



I remember getting home that night in the early hours and just sitting in my kitchen staring into space wondering whether anything I did helped at all. Sometimes you never know what happens next and you just have to hand over situations to God.



The reason I can talk to God about all these situations is because I do believe that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. I do believe that God suffered and therefore is accessible to us in our suffering. I can’t relate to a judgmental austere father but I can relate to a loving God who became flesh and dwelt among us. Who is always with us in our suffering. The suffering that we experience due to our humanity.



So next time you’re feeling weak and fragile and your body or mind is hurting. Next time you’re among the homeless and the smelly, remember it’s in those very situations that God chose to reveal himself. In fact it’s in those very situations that God continues to reveal herself. The stories from the hospital illustrate this. The life of this parish illustrates this. Are you prepared to be part of God’s healing for a broken world? All you need to bring is your hands and feet and your eyes through which God looks out in compassion on the world. We are at a turning point in the history of this church and its people. Do we need a full time priest to continue the work? Do we need a part time priest? Will a parish pastor help us to move on? One thing I am certain of is that we all have a part to play. The 70 that were sent out I'm sure were of differing abilities and interests. They all had to be willing to take on what came up as they journeyed through God's Kingdom. All of us from the youngest to the oldest, from the physically able to the most frail have their part to play in deciding which direction this parish goes in. Please pray and meditate very hard about the proposal. Try and work out what is the very essence of this church? What is the bit that gives it life and must go on? Talk to the Churchwardens, the PCC and Nick, David and myself about your thoughts and questions and be ready to come with ideas to an away day about the future of this/our/your parish.



I’d like to finish with this quote which you've heard from me many times.



“I have learned many times that suffering, when permeated by love, can have creative power. When I light a candle at midnight, I say to the darkness: I beg to differ”.



I hope you all find love, wisdom and understanding in the inevitable suffering of this world. I also hope you find the inner strength and resilience to say yes to God and be part of those who are sent out to be God's healing hands and heart to a hurting world.



Amen




Sunday, 26 July 2015

Rebel Rev in action for her sisters big day

This clip was taken when I officiated at my little sisters renewal of vows service. It's so important to share time with your family and friends and to have some fun in life.  Hope you all enjoy this clip



Saturday, 27 June 2015

Why should I clean up my room when the world is in such a mess?

It's been far too long since I posted here. Sorry about that.

It's been a tragic time. Watching the news yesterday required a far amount of fortitude. The awful slaying and maiming of innocent people in Tunisia, France and Kuwait has been hard to watch, even from afar.

Already we have had a lot of talk about the 10th anniversary of 7/7. Lot's of people who were bereaved then or hurt and injured whether physically or psychologically are already preparing for the hurt to come crashing over them again because anniversaries are always painful. Then we have this happening on top

10 years ago on 7/7 I spent the night with a friend in Derby. She was dying and I had been supporting her for a couple of years. It was to prove to be the last time I saw my friend. I came back the next day. I was alone on the only train that came into London. Once I got back I then discovered there was no London transport. The streets were eerily silent. I had people on the end of my mobile trying to help me navigate my way through the streets. Every time I thought I was getting close to where I wanted to be there would be a police cordon blocking my way. What should have been a couple of miles turned into a mammoth hike. My pain was nothing compared to the victims.

When my daughter was little I got her a t-shirt from a festival I was at that said "Why should I tidy up my room when the world is in a mess?" It can feel like that for all of us. We may be adults but we just don't know what to do when ISOL seems to be creating so much fear and destruction. When austerity measures target the poor more harshly than the rich. When the Eurozone seems so uncertain.

It can all feel too much and then what happens is we turn on each other or blame those who are blameless and that plays right into the hands of those with power or the terrorists. People often ask priests to speak out at times of national sadness or to make sense of difficult situations. That's one of the most challenging things about public office so please accept my humble thoughts as a way of looking at these horrors but not feeling totally impotent in how we tackle them.

Earlier I was in discussion about some complex issues. A young woman who was very troubled ended up having sex with her boyfriends father. She was only 15/16. Her uncle found out and went mad at the girl and went round to the blokes house to punch his lights out. This man that had inappropriately had sex, as far as I'm concerned, filled the uncles head with lies saying that the girl was wild and it was all because of the abuse she had suffered at her own fathers hands. When the uncle went back to the girl and started questioning her about it, he was kinder and less mad at her. She went along with the lie to keep him off her back and before she knew it, it had got out of hand. It created a horrible problem in the girls family and was years before she admitted the truth. 10 years on the family are all ok with each other and have worked through their issues. the vulnerable teenager has turned into a well adjusted and confident young woman. Some stories do have a happy ending.

Why on earth have I told you all that? Many people would be looking at the girls behaviour and thinking how despicable it is. While I do not condone what she did, she was a minor. How many of you have already forgotten about her boyfriends dad? That man groomed a vulnerable teenager while she was away from home on holiday. Not only did he groom her, he then had sex with her despite being over twice her age. His final act of sabotage on this young woman's life was to tell the lie that further estranged her from her family and took the heat completely off him. Abusers are so clever and know how to manipulate people. We have to be aware of that and be more clever. That young woman just needed to feel safe enough and loved enough to admit the great big hole she dug for herself by going along with the "abusers" lie.

Time and time again I hear people bagging out Muslims because of the actions of terrorists. When I was a kid it was Christians blowing each other to pieces and shooting each other. I don't accept that those people were Christian who used violence and fear and intimidation in that way. They were just violent thugs. What would Jesus do and what did he do? His ministry was all about love and releasing people from tyranny peacefully. Islam is also a peaceful religion. It is profoundly sad that these terrorists are not seen in the same way as the Catholics and the Protestants but that instead all Muslims are tarred with the same brush.

The young woman I was talking about is also indicative of the young people that leave the UK to go and fight for ISOL. They have been groomed by an abuser. They have been fed a pack of lies and had their vulnerabilities exploited. Maybe some of them are living with too much harshness in their lives. maybe too much pressure or maybe it's just because they are young and impressionable.

It's an awful situation and again takes us back to my daughters t-shirt why should we care when tidying up our room is miniscule compared to the rest of the world. The thing is I was an abused child and I know the difference that people reaching out in love can make. It could have so easily been different story. I could have totally gone off the rails because of my vulnerability. I was lucky I met the right people at the right time and they made an enormous difference to my life. I in turn am trying to repay the favour. I try to make a little bit of difference. The name of my blog comes from that "where angels fear to tread"  That's because I never back out of horrible situations. If someone needs me to hold their hand and offer them some love I will. Fortunately I have a never ending supply as I ask God to channel that agape love through me because I couldn't do it all on my own.

There is a poem I love and it sums up my ministry. If all of us had this pinned up in our houses and tried to run our houses along these lines I think the world would be a better place. Sure horrible things will still happen, like loved ones getting cancer, and tragic accidents and even terror attacks but there will be less broken people around because every time something awful happens an angel will turn up to help.

I hope these jumbled thoughts and random bringing together of different events encourages a few more angels to develop their wings.

This blog is dedicated to all who lost their lives in yesterdays atrocities and to all who mourn their loss

Here is that poem

A People Place
If this is not a place where tears are understood,
Where do I go to cry?
If this is not a place where my spirits can take wing,
Where do I go to fly?
If this is not a place where my questions can be asked,
Where do I go to seek?
If this is not a place where my feelings can be heard,
Where do I go to speak?
If this is not a place where you’ll accept me as I am,
Where can I go to be?
If this is not a place where I can try to learn and grow,
Where can I be just me?

William J Crockett



Sunday, 8 March 2015

Rebel Rev bring two passions together, theology and domestic abuse in a challenging sermon for International Women's Day

May my words be in the name of the living God creating, redeeming and sustaining. Amen.

Thank you for inviting me back to your lovely community and church. I hope all goes well as Joyce leaves you for a few months and comes back as the vicar.

Thank you for your prayers for our school. Im pleased to say that St Augustine Academy is thriving. We are officially good in al areas and are full in year 7 for the first time. That is an amazing achievement since we only took over in Sept 11.

I love working with children and young people. We had a great day at Diocesan Synod yesterday looking at the variety of ways we engage with our young people. It was challenging and informative and full of energy. Its important to remember that our children are the church of the present and if we get it wrong they wont be the church of the future. We were all encouraged to do the conversations differently and really listen to our young people and give them some responsibility.

Children say the funniest things. In a research project with primary school children the following statements about what love is were made.

Love is when a boy puts on aftershave and a girl puts on perfume and they go out and smell each other.

Love is when you kiss all the time and when you get tired of kissing you talk to each other

Love is when a girls eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of them

When you love someone the way you speak is different. When they say your name you know that it is safe in their mouth

Love is when mummy sees daddy on the toilet and doesn't think its gross

Did you know that today is International Womens Day? Its great to have a day when we celebrate the achievements of women which in general around the world are still under acknowledged. I have to look for 3 quotes each week and it is hard finding quotes on the various themes in the school that are written by women. There is still much work needed to created true equality.

I remember I went on a Barnardos course on child prostitution once and this little quote really hit me. Some things have to be believedto be seen” “Some things have to be believed to be seen” I guess it hit me because its the reverse of what Jesus says to Thomas. If you dont believe that domestic abuse is happening here in this church, then you wont see it. If you dont believe any of your friends or families are in abusive relationships, then you wont see it. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, and in all kinds of relationships - heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. People suffer domestic abuse regardless of their gender, social group, class, age, race, disability, religion, sexuality or lifestyle. The abuse can begin at any time either in new relationships or after many years spent together.

I have been associated with the field of domestic abuse for over 20 years. I have worked in womens refuges, managed womens centres been on various management committees and helped set up the first ever women refuge in Slovenia. 

When I speak about domestic abuse I do not use gender neutral language because to do so would deny the reality of the situation. I talk about men as the perpetrators and women and the survivors of abuse because statistically speaking, and overwhelmingly so, that is the case. The danger in doing that is that some of you may be sitting there thinking but what about men who experience abuse?” I accept and agree that men also experience abuse. The good practise that I outline applies to whoever is experiencing and whoever is perpetrating the abuse.

The next area for us to be clear on is what is the definition of domestic abuse? I was in Southwark Diocese before I came here. I helped them with their policy and definition. This is what we came up with:

All forms of domestic abuse cause damage to the survivor, particularly to their self esteem, and express an imbalance in power in the relationship. Abuse can on rare occasions happen only once, but usually it is a systematic, repeated and often escalating pattern of behaviour by which the abuser seeks to control, limit and humiliate, often behind closed doors. Abusive behaviour can take many forms, and the following examples are not exhaustive.

Physical, psychological and emotional, financial, sexual, spiritual or neglect and isolation.

Ok having laid some groundwork lets look at the reality. If anything I say touches a nerve for you please see me afterwards

If you've never experienced domestic abuse it can be difficult to imagine just what those affected have to go through. 

We all know what a bully is...

• Imagine living with a bully all the time, but being too scared to leave.
• Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night, being afraid to wake up in the morning.
• Imagine being denied food, warmth or sleep.
• Imagine being punched, slapped, hit, bitten, pinched and kicked.
• Imagine being pushed, shoved, burnt, strangled, raped, beaten.
• Imagine having to seek permission to go out, to see your friends or your family or to give your children a treat.
• Imagine that you believe what they tell you - that it's your fault. That if only you were a better mother, lover, housekeeper, kept your mouth shut, could only keep the children quiet, dressed how they liked you to, kept in shape, gave up your job - somehow things would get better.  
• Imagine being constantly told youre ugly, useless, fat, no one would ever want you, that you would not be able to cope without him.  
• Imagine their threats if you dare to say you will leave. How could you ever find the strength to leave? Will you ever be safe again?
• Imagine threats to find and kill you and your children, wherever you go.
• Imagine permanent injuries and sometimes death.
•  

That is the reality that 1 in 4 women live with during their lifetime. In this country alone 2 women are killed every week by a current or former partner. Of those women that are killed 75% are killed at or around the time of leaving, so leaving is a very dangerous thing to do. 

Many people ask me why do women stay in these relationships? I think thats the wrong question because it puts the responsibility on her, we should be asking why does he do it? But going back to the original question, when a woman leaves weve already discovered this is the most dangerous time. What she gains from leaving is an immediate loss of her house and possessions. Maybe she has to leave her children behind, she loses her status, her pets. She loses her local support as often for safety reasons she needs to move away. Her children have to change school. She also loses the man she fell in love with because she fell in love with a charmer not an abuser.

What she gains is a heightened risk of attack, financial worries, lack of security of tenure for a while, as refuges and hostels can keep women for up to 2 years sometimes before they go into a permanent housing. Stop I hear you cry, what about all the positives she gains. Yes she does regain her freedom and independence, her self esteem and confidence but they all take years to build up whereas her losses are immediate.

As I said its a complex subject, its not just as simple as why doesnt she leave.

On top of all that we have a load of well meaning Christians as well as a few dodgy ones propping up the abusive situation using verses like these:

1 Tim 2: 11-14

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man. She must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 

Ephesians 5:22-24 

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 

There are hundreds or verses like this in the bible but thats only looking at it from one perspective and not seeing it as the historical document of its time and context. In our reading this morning we have Paul talking about our wisdom is nothing compared to Gods foolishness. Lets try and be wise and have a new conversation now about some of these issues. Bishop Trevor was very challenging about the need for certain conversations to be had in order for the church to survive. Wouldnt it be good if we put our listening ears on, like I say to my grandchildren, and see the world through Gods wisdom.

So ok lets have a look at a few other verses and see whats there:

I Corinthians 16:19 

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 

Galatians 3:27-28 

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

These are just a few verses that can be used to counteract some of the other verses. I did an exercise in the school where I used to bechaplain. Lots of people used to wear those WWJD bracelets but I asked the students to tell me What did Jesus do” and of course I got a great big list of things like, ate with sinners, spoke to women, didnt judge, taught people and was hospitable, never judged anyone, loved everyone. At the end I told them to go and do the same. Wouldnt our churches be great places if we did that too and based ourselves on what Jesus did and then argue about all the conflicting scriptural verses when we get to heaven and meet the various authors?

As I finish off Id like to give you a few really important dos and donts when working with people affected by domestic abuse.

Do

approach her about the abuse in a sensitive way, for example by saying, Im worried about you because…’

believe what she tells you: it will have taken a lot for her to talk to you and trust you. You will only hear the tip of the iceberg at first

take the abuse seriously. 

focus on her safety: talk to her about it and how she could protect herself 

help her to understand that the abuse is not her fault and that no-one deserves to be abused, no matter what they do

• take your safeguarding policy seriously and adopt it
• inform yourselves

 

Remember: if you feel overwhelmed or frightened yourself, get help.

Dont

blame her or ask judgemental questions such as, What did you do to make him treat you like that?’ or Why dont you just break up with him?’ 

• focus on trying to work out the abusers reasons for the abuse. 
• try and listen and mediate to both parties
• recommend anger management for the abuser. He manages his anger very well. His boss annoys him then he comes home and hits his partner where it doesnt show

 

Even though I became quite senior in the secular work I was doing in relation to domestic abuse, I always insisted on doing some face to face and group work. Although this was disconcerting at first to my colleagues, they soon got used to the boss” working with them.

For two years there was an overlap between my theological education and being the manager of a large womens centre. I was really glad to have the challenge of working out my theology in this context. 

One of the women I was supporting was extremely religious and took her marriage vows really seriously. She felt she couldnt leave her abusive husband because of the vows she had made in church. I tried to reassure her that her husband had broken the covenant of the marriage by the use of his violence towards her. She was having none of it. She told me her husband was the head of the household and she must submit to him. I urged her to read further into St Pauls words and that it also says that husbands should look after their wives. Again she wasnt convinced. 

 

Sometimes she was so sad that tears seemed to plop straight out of her eyes without even touching her cheeks. At times like that Id reassure her with those lovely words from Romans 8 about nothing separating us from the love of God. 

 

One day she came to see me and had obviously taken a beating the night before. I wanted to take over and tell her what to do I was so outraged. In as calm a voice as I could manage I asked her how long she was going to put up with this. She told me that her husband had begged her to forgive him and reminded her that the Bible says you must forgive. 

 

I then spoke to the woman that true forgiveness requires real repentance and its through that that we can be reconciled. She still kept saying but the bible says I must forgive 70x7 and that I must turn the other cheek. I then found out that the Pastor in their church had been working with both parties and told her she must be a dutiful wife and not provoke him and that he (the pastor) would help the husband with his anger management.

 

I think at that point I needed anger management and I prayed very hard for God to help me out. During my studies, at the time, wed been looking at marriage and the most common reading during wedding ceremonies, which of course we all know, is 1 Corinthians 13. I got my bible out at this passage and said to her this was the passage that most people had in their marriage service and was a good passage for Christian marriage to be built on. She agreed. I then asked her to read it out loud but every time she came across the word love she was to substitute her husbands name.

That would change the reading from this:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

To this:

Abuse is patient; abuse is kind; abuse is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...

It was that simple substitution of his name that made this woman see that her husband wasnt doing his bit in the marriage and it was his abuse that had broken the covenant of the marriage. He also wasnt living with the most important Christian virtue of love. She clung to me as I reassured her that it would be alright. She stayed while I found her refuge accommodation and arranged a police escort so she could pick up her belongings.

 

I hope and pray that more of us can give away that love which means we can all have life and have it abundantly. Amen.