December Days 25 (26): everything, and then some

Contextual theology: faith in what?

‘Contextual theology’ is spot on. If I’d got my act together and written this yesterday, I would have waffled at length about the Incarnation, and what it means about the importance of the present.

Context is inescapable. We cannot stop learning about our universe; things change; what we once thought was true turns out to be only a tiny part of what we now know to be true.

Faith in what? Faith in God who is infinite. Everything that I can imagine that God could be, plus everything I can’t imagine. God in whom we live and move and have our being; God who contains everything that we know – and that everything is always expanding, and that what we believed yesterday is not enough, and what we can imagine today is nowhere near the truth.

It isn’t so much that what we knew yesterday is wrong; it’s that we understand more about it. The new truth doesn’t contradict the old truth; it builds on it, reaches beyond it, adds dimensions upon dimensions to it. The more we know, the more we understand, the more we are able to appreciate the wonder of reality and of how much we can never know.

What we knew yesterday was good, but we have more of it today. One has to take all the evidence into account. Integrity demands it.

December Days 24: Remembered

An anonymous friend asks:

What would you like to be remembered for? If someone were writing an obituary, what you want them to include? Which achievements are you proud of?

I would like to be remembered as –

– the author of Speak Its Name, which I would like to have made a difference to somebody
– more generally, as somebody who could write, and did
– a person who was not afraid to admit how difficult it can be, whatever ‘it’ might be
– a committed trade unionist
– a singer who was prepared to sing
– someone who tried very hard to see things as they really are
– more than anything, a person of integrity

December Days 23: #ChristmasMeans

Help us spread the real meaning of Christmas to as many people as possible by tweeting what Christmas means using images, video and text

SHAN’T.

I am stretching the definition of ‘prompt’ a little bit here, since, while the Church of England has certainly prompted people to write about what #ChristmasMeans, I think I’m meant to do this on Twitter, and, you know, take it seriously.

I started on Twitter, but it ended up spread across several increasingly irritated and unintelligible tweets about why I dislike being told to do things on Twitter.

So I thought I’d write about that on here, instead.

I have never been able to take the Church of England’s hashtags seriously since their #EverythingChanges campaign a few Easters ago; anyone who’d watched five minutes of Torchwood must have been sniggering. (Not that Torchwood was without its clunky paschal imagery, I must admit. But still. The twenty-first century is when #everythingchanges, and you gotta be ready.)

Twitter encourages triteness. The tweets currently gathering on the hashtag are no doubt very sincere, but they are mostly making me want to vomit. I am a terrible Christian (but a very British one). There is not much room for deep theological debate in 140 characters – 115, once you include the hashtag – and simplistic religious messages, however pithy, set my teeth on edge. I am the sort of Christian who smiles at, and, yea, retweets, things like ‘Actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season’. (And this is the reason that I will never be invited to tweet from @OurCofE.)

And then I think I am just hopelessly contrary. Even things that I like doing, that I would go out of my way to do, can be soured for me by a Twitter instruction to do them. Go to this! Do this! Why not…? I growl, ‘I already do this, you patronising tosser’ or, ‘Sod off’. I very rarely retweet things that tell me to retweet if I agree, even if I wholeheartedly do agree – because I don’t want to place that same burden upon my followers. This is, I think, just my stuff about being told what to do, and I don’t know where I picked it up from, but it’s a thing.

On top of that, there’s that instruction to proselytise, in the superficial ‘ask a friend to church’ way, that I have never, ever, felt comfortable doing, that has never felt authentic. I will write some other time about my profound discomfort with the idea of ‘mission’, about getting free of that, about the liberating revelation that I don’t have to try to convert everybody. #ChristmasMeans is a ghost that haunts my past self, that tells me that I am an insufficient Christian, even though the harder I try the more diminished my faith feels. I didn’t actually have this in mind yesterday, when I added “I do not pressure or guilt other people into doing things they don’t want to, dammit” to my dammit list, but in fact it’s one of the oldest hurts I have, and no better for being partly self-inflicted.

#ChristmasMeans is also setting my teeth on edge, particularly coupled as it is with that old guiltbag ‘the real meaning of Christmas’, because I can’t help feeling that the subtext is ‘and you, whatever you are doing, are failing to understand what Christmas really means. You are celebrating the wrong thing, you are too selfish, too impatient, too taken up with worldly matters.’

And there are enough expectations placed upon people at this time of year as it is. I say this as a comfortably-off middle class person with no children who isn’t going to have to do any cooking until the 29th. I feel bowed down with the expectations that people – good, faithful, Christian people, in many cases – are putting on me, and it is exhausting to hand those expectations back to them graciously.

Insisting that we focus on the Real Meaning of Christmas just adds another expectation, unless we are also given permission to not take part in the Unreal Meaning. It has been a real struggle for me this year to write Christmas cards. I don’t know why; I know they ought to be simple for an administrative genius like me, and God knows I feel like a pathetic excuse for a human being for not even being able to write a simple Christmas card, but there it is.

I know that I can choose not to write Christmas cards. I know that some of the consequences of this will be: that some people will not hear of my new address; that I will go on some people’s Stinge Lists; that some people will not even notice; that some people will notice and wonder if we are still friends; that some people will notice and wonder if I’m all right. And so, because the thought of all that is daunting, I have written the damn things, and sent them.
I would like to know that #ChristmasMeans that I am not, actually, a pathetic excuse for a human being even if I do fail to write a single Christmas card. Somewhere, deep down, I do know that. But it doesn’t fit into 140 characters.

Do not get me wrong. For me, the Incarnation is the most important thing in the history of this planet. (Yes, for me, even more so than the Resurrection.) And yet #ChristmasMeans feels at once like an invitation to troll and like a burden that I cannot bear.

#ChristmasMeans turkey and mince pies

#ChristmasMeans new Doctor Who

#ChristmasMeans the most beautiful music ever written

#ChristmasMeans the most awful music ever written

#ChristmasMeans hard work

#ChristmasMeans I am, as ever, a social failure

#ChristmasMeans feeling horrible for rolling my eyes at the hashtag

#ChristmasMeans I am, yet again, failing to be a good Christian

#ChristmasMeans pretending I’m coping

I will tweet one single, serious response. It will not convey everything I am trying to convey. But it is the best I can do, and it will say this:

#ChristmasMeans you are OK exactly as you are.

December Days 22: the dammit list

I’m still taking prompts for December Days, but for blank days I am wandering around the internet finding my own prompts. Today I am making a dammit list, à la Havi

I have been working on a Declaration of Independence. Actually, it’s more like a Declaration of This Is My Life, Dammit…

Being clear about what you stand for and what you care about and what you will not put up with, dammit.

Being clear and using the word dammit as often as possible, dammit. If only just in your head.

Oh, and let me say that yes, dammit is the most important word when you’re manifesto-ing it up, and ideally every sentence ends with it.

Even though it can really just be implied.

Here’s mine. You would not believe what fun it was to write.

I don’t travel to the Continent by plane, dammit.

I don’t drink, dammit.

Except for ritual or ceremonial purposes, dammit.

I am the one who defines those ritual and ceremonial purposes, dammit.

I don’t like mushrooms, dammit.

I don’t give Christmas cards to people I’ll be seeing only three days before Christmas, dammit.

I will not get involved in all the political shit, dammit.

I pay a decent price for decent art, dammit.

I will sing in the street if I feel like it, dammit.

I don’t have a car, dammit.

I don’t miss having a car, dammit.

In fact, I might not ever take my driving test again and I don’t care, dammit.

My office has windows, dammit.

I respect the integrity of my own work, dammit.

I am allowed to have fun, dammit.

I wear my skirts as short as I damn well please, dammit.

I look fantastic in hats, dammit.

And I wear hats whenever I please, dammit.

I do not pressure or guilt other people into doing things they don’t want to, dammit.

And if they do secretly want to do those things, that’s their business, and they can get to it in their own time, dammit.

I can hide anything I like on Facebook, dammit.

I wear outrageously bright lipstick, dammit.

Or I wear no makeup at all, dammit.

I am allowed to buy another pair of red shoes, dammit.

I don’t have to keep everything everyone ever gave me, dammit.

I don’t have to pretend to like shopping, dammit.

I can spend all lunchtime behind a book if I feel like it, dammit.

I do not get pushed out of my own Church by anyone who diminishes my humanity or whose idea of salvation is less than all-encompassing, dammit.

I am not inheriting a bus, dammit.

I don’t play Monopoly, dammit.

Or Risk, dammit.

If I don’t see a need for something to be done, I’m not going to be guilted into doing it, dammit.

I will not apologise for any book that anyone sees me reading, dammit.

I don’t have to buy the cheapest version of everything, dammit.

I am allowed to retreat, rest, and otherwise spend time consciously not doing things, dammit.

And other people are not allowed to make me feel guilty about that, either, dammit.

Sometimes I would really very much rather be on my own, dammit.

I can avoid using any sort of pronoun for God, dammit.

I never call myself ‘Mrs’, dammit.

I have never asked anybody to call me ‘Kath’, dammit.

I refuse to attach moral value to food according to any sort of correlation with nutritional content, dammit.

I don’t sign up for things in the street, dammit.

I believe in decent pay for decent work, dammit.

I believe in live music, dammit.

I don’t have to be good at anything the first time I try it, dammit.

Or even the fiftieth, dammit.

I could go on, but my computer is clamouring for a restart. You are welcome to leave your own dammits in comments!

Reverb day 21: from here on

#reverbWhat can you say today with certainty?
From here, the days get lighter.

I have a friend who asks me exactly the right questions (even if I never answer them).

I know what is the next step on Speak Its Name.

Things are grim, but they do not stay grim.

In 2015, I am open to… huge, exciting, things happening

In 2015, I want to feel… light-hearted and full of grace

In 2015, I will say no to… over-commitment

In 2015, I will know I am on the right track when… I see the secret holiness of everything. But when I find myself veering off course, I will gently but firmly… rewrite my timetable so that I have a day or a week free to reset what needs resetting

In December 2015, I want to look back and say… that, my love, was the best year ever.

Reverb day 20: laughing to the point of disaster

#reverbOne thing I learned in 2014 was how to make space for joy and levity, even in the midst of challenging circumstances or sad times.

How could you make space for joy in the year to come? How could you protect it?

I have noted repeatedly that this is going to be the year for fun. I am going to seek fun out deliberately. I am hoping that there will be joy coming along with the fun.

One thing that I found immensely useful in 2014 was the #100happydays meme. I am a little cynical about forced gratitude, particularly of the sort imposed on one from outside (‘cheer up, there are children starving in Africa’, or, ‘cheer up, it might never happen’) but this practice, taken on because I wished to do it, proved to be surprisingly joyful in itself, so much so that I have embarked upon it again. Even on the darkest days (today is 21st December, we note) it had me looking for one single good thing to talk about, and, once I’d found that, I often found more.

It’s always there. I just have to find it.

And what of levity? I gave up drinking alcohol this year but find, at least on the evidence of Friday’s office Christmas party, that my sense of levity has declined not one whit. It had been a very long time since I laughed so hard that I was nearly sick. It’s very good to know that this is still within me.

Reverb day 19: ill rainbow mermaids eating chocolates and carrying purple bells

#reverbToday, I invite you to consider: what sorts of signs and symbols have recurred for you in 2014? Think: repeating colours, shapes, people, sayings, music, images, ideas. Where could they possibly be leading you?

Mermaids – cheating, rather, because I went looking for mermaids once I discovered what an apt metaphor they were. Mermaids for me are a useful way of thinking about fiction, these creatures that look almost the same as us, but who, moving from one element to another, need things provided or explained that feel obvious in this world.

Rainbows – Lots of them, this year. There were a couple of weeks in the autumn where it seemed as if every day I saw a rainbow from the window of my train home. One of these felt particularly apt, coming on the day that Vicky Beeching came out. And there’s one that falls on the wall at work, when the sun comes a certain way through the windows. I think the obvious message is obvious here. I have been managing to be more out this year, if (it feels) less active.

Bells – the quarter-hour chimes from the church opposite my office, bringing me back to the moment.

Purple – I know it’s my favourite colour, but even my study wall was purple when we moved in. Still preparing, still waiting. But also luxury and sovereignty.

Inventive ways of transporting things – well, I have moved to Cambridge, and you would not believe what weird things I’ve seen carried dangled from a bicycle’s handlebars. I managed to bring a planter of herbs home in my own bike basket (only spilt a few bark chippings); but the best one I saw was a chap on a skateboard, moving at a good speed through the railway station car park, with a wide, flat cardboard package balanced on his head. I am not sure if this has a moral, but I note it.

Chocolate – it’s good stuff, an inexpensive indulgence.

Illness – mental or physical, one way or another I’ve been ill on and off since August. I think it’s trying to say that I need some rest.