Bangs and Brummies

This weekend consisted of some much needed chilling out and relaxing. On Saturday, I headed to Birmingham to meet up with TractorGirl and go to a GCN gathering. We had an hour to catch up and chat before joining the others for some time praying in a church near the Bullring and then on to a French restaurant of the relaxed variety for a meal. The food was nice (I had some cheesy garlic bread and vegetarian risotto) and the company lovely. I learnt a lot about Eastern Orthodoxy and being in an Irish folk band!

I was feeling pretty knacked after food (think I’m coming down with something, which makes having to wait for my passport to come through before I can register with a GP more than a little annoying…) so we retired to the hotel for a happy few hours of just chatting and chilling and, for the first time in what seemed like ages, a good catch-up. The hotel in question was the City Inn, which is in the heart of the Irish district. The staff were friendly and the room was spacious, clean and comfortable. I was sad at not being able to pinch the shampoo and shower gel (from the White Company, so good stuff!), which is after all the main reason for staying in a hotel! The only downside was the location, and it was quite noisy till late with all the clubs around and about, but ear plugs sorted that out. Worth the money!

On Sunday, we had breakfast in an Italian place near the Bullring. They did nice bacon and egg butties with accompanying cheesy Italian power ballads! Next, we went to the church we’d visited the previous day for a ‘Crossing Service’, which was basically Common Worship Order One with modern songs. Enjoyed the latter half, but the sermon was full of business cliches and “purpose-driven prayers” and life coaches and “making an impact” – if I ever preach such dribble, shoot me! Afterwards, we went to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet place, which was nice enough (I’m fussy about places being too crowded). TractorGirl, new book in hand, headed off early and I retired to the pub at New Street station for a pint and to read my book, which is very funny. Dawn French’s wicked sense of humour comes through and I think I unnerved people around me with suddenly laughing out loud!

On getting back to Milton Keynes and after a quick pit stop to layer up (it was freezing!) and unpack, I was off to the fireworks with some people from church. They (the fireworks, not the church people!) lasted about fifteen minutes and were pretty, just about justifying standing around in the cold. We then had dinner at an Italian place in the shopping centre, and I got pasta down my tie, which was annoying, but the food was good and the company interesting, so it didn’t matter.

Overall, it was a lovely weekend which reminded me exactly why I’m head-over-heals in love with TractorGirl and how much I like the GCN folks, and showed me that my current location and choice of church are pretty good 🙂

Just wish the long-distance relationship thing was easier – I miss you, darling!

One Bible – Two Testaments

I’m part of a group called Bible School which meets in the home of the person who runs it on Thursday evenings. We study the Bible in the sense of looking at the background, origins and usage of it, and in the past I gather the group has also spent time wrestling with doctrinal issues.

Yesterday evening we had an interesting discussion on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and were asked to consider the theological relationship (as opposed to the sociological or historical) between the two. After some further reflection, I’ve come to a few conclusions I thought I’d air to see what others think.

One of my personal bugbears is the way some people seem to look at the Old Testament and be able to ‘see Jesus’ all over the place. Now, I’m NOT saying that this is impossible or an illegitimate practice. If God is Trinitarian then this has always been the case as the divine nature is eternal and unchanging, and, as Michael Ramsey put it, God is Christlike and there is no un-Christlike-ness within God at all. Consequently, it is not surprising if reflections by the people of Israel about the nature of God have a Christ-like character, if you will, and that profound resonances with the Gospel narratives can be found within the Old Testament. This is, I suppose, the beginnings of a doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, though I would not wish to go as far as postulating the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture as there is clearly a journey being made by the people of God (in Israel in the OT and Paul and others in the NT) in terms of their understanding of the divine nature. For a couple of examples, note the gradual move from a tribal understanding of God to a more universal conception following exile in Babylon and also the changing understanding of the consequences of sin down the generations (re the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ healing of the blind man where the disciples ask about the origin of the man’s blindness).

Having said that, I want also to highlight three potential pitfalls:

1)  The OT has an integrity of its own which can get lost if we ‘Christianise’ it too readily. Canonical criticism (reading a passage in the light of the whole of Scripture) is a sound hermeneutical technique (Walter Moberly is, I gather, a principle advocate) but we need also to consider the historical and literary critical questions in order to form a rounded picture. Some texts such as the early chapters of Genesis to pick a common example suffer from being ripped from their original context and re-interpreted to suit Christianity, both in terms of their riches being lost and difficult questions being side-stepped.

2) It is tempting to use the Old Testament simply as a proof-text for Christianity. We search through the Bible for texts which appear to point to Christ (or at least can be read that way) and disregard the rest. We then fail to appreciate the OT at all. Moreover, this approach ignores the possibility that just as the NT authors drew heavily on the OT and no doubt came to understand it in the light of Christ, seeing prophecy fulfilled (see the Road to Emmaus story), maybe they came to understand Christ in the light of OT and recast the stories of Jesus’ life in the style of these narratives. I understand that the practice is called Midrash and was common in Jesus’ time – the Gospels are not journalistic accounts as we know them today (which does not mean they are ‘fiction ‘ devoid of historical content) but are narratives told  by people steeped in a particular culture and shaped by a national history and expectation (even Luke, a gentile author, draws heavily on the OT). 

3) We can come to Scripture with a particular doctrinal position already established and search for evidence to back it up. For instance, I’ve had discussions with Christians about penal substitutionary atonement who have focused on Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant. (It’s true that there are remarkable similarities between the Cross and the OT text, but Second Isaiah has a history of its own and ultimately we are not sure to whom the author was referring. Whilst my point about the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes into play here, I think, we must not forget the very Jewish origins of the text, of exile in Babylon and the hope of deliverance from the God of the Exodus. Both readings are useful and insightful.) While again I do not think it is illegitimate to see how well doctrines measure up to Scripture (in fact I believe it is vital so as to maintain the proper balance between Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience, in which, at least for Anglicans, Scripture is the final authority – in that sense we believe in sola scriptura), I think we need to be doing solid exegesis and not trying to force the Bible to fit pre-conceived views, and this is arguably harder with the OT than the NT, simply because of the time-gap between its authorship and now, and the comparative lack of knowledge of it in Christian circles.

So, at the end of all of that, I want to affirm the continuity between the OT and NT but want to stress

1) we need to let the OT speak for itself and take it seriously without ‘Christianising’ it;

2) there is a radical discontinuity with the resurrection of Christ, which is simultaneously the completion of the old and the beginning of the new creation, to paraphrase NT Wright’s Easter sermon from a couple of years ago. We are not bound to the entirety of the OT world-view and new possibilities are open. I believe it’s no accident that Mary Magdalene saw the risen Jesus and mistook him for the gardener…

Rising from the ashes…

I have discovered that my work computer, which does not allow me to access Facebook, YouTube and other fun stuff, does allow me to access my blog, which is therefore now back in business!

Life is pretty good at the moment. This week I have been to see a fantastic production of Oliver at the Drury Lane Theatre and a classical concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and so have hardly been at home. When I can think what to say, I’ll post something more informative!

Update on life

I haven’t been able to blog since the move (no landline yet and internet at work is severely restricted) so while I’m at a friend’s house, here’s an update on life.

I successfully made the move to MK just over three weeks ago now. My house is lovely and I’m just about sorted now; just awaiting the arrival of my new sofa in a fortnight, and need to buy one or two more small bits of furniture. It’s been good on the whole to have my own place, but also quite lonely sometimes to come home after work to an empty house. I think I’m getting used to that, but do find it hard, especially as TractorGirl and I, with all that her life has involved recently, haven’t seen each other for a while. I do miss her loads.

Work has been going well. My first couple of days were a bit dull until my computer log-on got sorted out, but soon after, things got quite busy. Along with my boss, I am taking over a load of mathematical modelling work from someone who is leaving for a job with less of a daily commute, and so my first three weeks have been the handover period and trying to get to grips with where things currently stand. It’s been a little daunting to say the least, but I now have more of an idea what’s going on. It’s a nice place to work; I’ve had one or two jokes made about my ties, but all light-hearted (and it’s nice to stand out in an office dominated by men in open-neck shirts in various dull pastel shades…) and think that given time, I’ll fit in well. Quite out of the blue, the other day I was offered a job in Durham (a little too late, alas) but I’m pretty sure I’ll stay put.

Milton Keynes itself is an odd place. I live about a twenty-five minute walk from work along the redways (which are quite confusing when one is not used to them) but there are no local shops in the village, so getting food in involves wandering into town. I’ve joined an amateur drama group, an astronomy club, found a bible study and hopefully some LGBT stuff to fill my time, and am using the weekends when I don’t get to see TractorGirl to explore the region around MK. So far, this has involved trips to London (and a wonderful concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields) and Bath (for a GCN gathering), and in a month’s time I’m off to Brighton for some shopping

Finding a church has been rather harder going. I went to my local parish church and it was like Monty Python-meets-Alpha! It was without a doubt the oddest place I’ve tried in a while. The parishioners I’ve spoken to are friendly enough, but after a comedy moment (involving jumping back and shrieking) when, after a discussion over tea with Mrs Vicar, I decided I needed to be honest, with where the conversation had gone, about my sexuality (I swear some people think lesbianism is a disease they can catch!) I think it might not be the easiest place to settle. Besides, I can’t be doing with being bombarded with over-simplistic evangelical cliches and vapid songs. Christ the Cornerstone in the centre of MK seems a better bet, so I will have to get used to getting up slightly earlier on a Sunday.

Overall, my first few weeks of ‘real adulthood’ have gone well, but been hard in various ways (I haven’t mentioned the whole trouble I’ve had getting a bank account (a condition of employment) because it makes my blood boil). I miss TractorGirl, but am beginning to settle in.

‘Tis good to be home

I am home from Greenbelt, and have spent a lovely sunny Durham evening in the library filling out a pre-employment check form! Said library closes soon so more information to follow tomorrow, sufficied to say that it is good to be home (even though Durham won’t be home much longer!) and able to have a shower and sleep in a warm bed.


Tomorrow, I am off to Greenbelt with TractorGirl and family. It’ll be hard to top last year, given that’s where TG and I got together, but I’m nevertheless really looking forward to it all. In other news, I move to MK in a week-and-a-half and start work a couple of days after. I’m excited, nervous and going to miss TG loads. Greenbelt is therefore a chance to enjoy her company and hang out with friends before real life kicks in again. Hopefully, the weather will be better than predicted!

See you all next week!

Rubik’s Cubes (and other strange ambitions)

There is an article in this week’s New Scientist that says that some mathematicians, harnessing the power of Google and symmetries, have shown that any arrangement of a Rubik’s cube can be completed in twenty moves or under. Apparently, “God couldn’t do it faster”. I find this sickening as solving mine even the once has still eluded me!

Owning and finishing a Rubik’s Cube is one of the ten ambitions I have in life, of varying degrees of sensibleness (and in no particular order), some of which go back to childhood:

1) Have tea at the Ritz

2) Talk philosophy with the Speaking Clock over a glass of wine

3) Own and finish a Rubik’s Cube

4) Ride the London Eye and streak at the top of the circle

5) Get to the top of the Eiffel Tower without a nose bleed

6) Go paragliding without an instructor

7) Have tea on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament

8 ) Meet k.d. lang and give her a kiss

9) Have a book (either fiction or serious science) published

10) Own enough ties to have one for every day of the year

One of these is impossible. I have done two of them. Guess which…

Milton Keynes

Last week, I went on a trip to Milton Keynes with TractorGirl to find a house ready for starting work in September. I can’t say I was in the best of moods when I arrived, and grim weather never makes a place look inviting, but my first impression of MK was of a thoroughly miserable collection of car parks and concrete monstrosities. It seemed to consist of car park after car park after miserable bloody car park, and some of the worst examples of 1960s breezeblock I have ever seen.

The imfamous concrete cows of Milton Keynes

The first place I went to look at was in the Hub, a fancy new development surrounding the restaurant district (MK is designed in blocks, ‘districts’) with nice, shiny glass buildings. The flat was a studio flat, but even by the standards of those, it was tiny. It was very pretty, but little bigger than a shoebox! I can see that it would be perfect for someone coming to the UK from abroad to work for six months with only a couple of suitcases and the clothes they were standing up in, but it wasn’t much good for a TOH!

The second place was a nice two bedroom place in the ‘much sort-after’ area of Bradwell Common. I seriously considered that, as it was in a good location relative to work and shops, but I only realised that on a second look, as by that part of the day I’d be dragged through more car parks than I could take, and just needed a coffee.

The next day, I saw a total dump of a flat with rising damp, cracks in the walls and lots of broken stuff. How can they get away with asking £550pcm for a health hazard? Later that day, I saw a nice one-bedroom flat with everything I needed despite the ‘granny’ decor, but thanks to a useless estate agent (avoid Anglo-American Lettings, they make bad customer service into an art form!) I got beaten to it, as he wouldn’t let me do the paperwork, and wasn’t even going to tell me it had gone, despite promising to phone.

This necessitated a second trip down south on Tuesday, and the realisation that furnishing a flat would open up so many more options. The result is that I will now be living in a very, very nice and brand new house that is well within my budget, rather than paying over the odds for an average place, so the bad agent did me a favour in a way.

In the sunshine, even MK didn’t seem too bad, and having discovered that the shopping centre has my favourite three shops in, that the theatre has some really good stuff (and a Friends group that I will enjoy), that there is an ecumenical church where my being an Anglican-Methodist mixture would be seen as perfectly normal and that I could afford to join a really nice gym and work on losing my belly (of which I am sick of the sight) made me feel much better. It seems to have great places to go eating and drinking, and there is an amateur dramatics group I can join that doesn’t do musicals, which is the reason I’ve never done that before.

All in all, it was a worthwhile few days. The other noteworthy thing was the B&B we stayed in. The owner was a very lovely, camp eccentric called Shaun who went out of his way to be helpful. I think he likes looking after people and solving all their problems, and as TractorGirl noted in her post, has the kind of lack of awareness of personal space one usually expects from church ladies, meaning several enthusiastic hugs. If you can deal with that, I would really recommend it as a place to stay should you ever find yourself in MK.

Young Carers and their Mums

I watched a very moving documentary last night on BBC3 (another from their ‘Adult Season‘) about young carers and the challenges they face. Tulisa Contostavlos, who is apparently part of some pop group or other (I’m showing my permature middle-aged-ness here!) was a carer for her mum who has mental health difficulties. She talks about her experiences and visits a handful of the estimated eighty-thousand young carers in the UK, seeing how they cope with the demands on them and juggling school, friends and future plans.

A lot of the themes of this programme resonated deeply with my own experience. My mum used to have pretty severe OCD to do with cleaning – it was never diagnosed, but she wouldn’t to this day think her behaviour was odd in any way. When we (my younger brother and I) were young, she used to spend six days out of seven cleaning the house, week-in and week-out. Making mess, however minor, was the worst thing one could ever do. It got to the point when I was a teenager were we were told to go to bed at 9pm because she needed to rest but couldn’t go to sleep if she thought the sofa was messy or the bathroom sink hadn’t been wiped after people had cleaned their teeth. She only ever left the house to go to the Post Office or corner shop, and I was never allowed friends around in case they made a mess.

Added to this, when I was around eleven years old (I can’t remember exactly), my brother developed a bowel problem that resulted in frequent painful rushing to the loo. The combination of a clean-freak and a messy illness that took ages to diagnose and get properly treated was a recipe for disaster. Home life was constantly tense, and as my father took refuge in work, I was left basically to be the adult, dealing with my brother and mum crying on my shoulder. It was very lonely and bloody hard work.

As well as practical support and maybe respite care for young carers, one thing shown in the programme was the benefit of having other young people facing similar issues that they could hang out with and talk to.

Both Tulisa and another lass, Hannah, talked about feeling isolated and of their own resulting mental health difficulties. I was first depressed when I was about twelve, and part of the reason I’m sure was feeling that I had no-one I could talk to. My parents didn’t seem to realise the odd-ness of mum’s behaviour, and the family dynamics were such that I felt treated as somehow inferior to my brother.  Teachers would have to have gone to Social Services, and I didn’t want to cause trouble. The lack of being able to go out or feeling able to explain this to my friends led to more bullying. I would have been so grateful for someone I could trust just to listen, rather than having to bottle it up.

I love my mum more than I could express, but I doubt she (or my father for that matter) would be able, looking back, to see the situation as I saw it. It has taken quite a bit of counselling to deal with it all. Knowing that she’ll always be the way she is to some extent has helped me let go of unrealistic expectations of her that were making it hard for me to forgive. These days, we have a decent relationship, even if she never listens!

The positive relationships the young people had with their mums were very encouraging, and remarkable given the burdens they had to shoulder. It shows how, as my own mum said recently in a different context, love can conquer all.

Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum

On BBC3, there is currently a series of programmes as part of their ‘Adult Season’, some of which have been really fascinating and moving. There was a programme about a young woman about to get married who wanted to decide which of the various father figures in her life should walk her down the aisle. Another was about a teenager whose mum is a glamour model (read page three girl) and her journey into adulthood. Her mum has real issues about body image and is addicted to plastic surgery. The programme shows what happens when such surgery goes wrong, and the difficulties mum had of letting her daughter take her own path in life.

Now, having just praised several of the shows, there are some programmes that are far more like Jeremy Kyle – truly awful but an occasional guilty pleasure. ‘Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum‘ comes into that category. It’s about a group of young people, ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-three, whose parents are fed up of their lazy and selfish behaviour. None of them have ever held down a job and some can’t even manage basics like doing laundry or cooking a meal for themselves. Each week, they are given a work placement and are sharing a house together. Their parents get to observe their behaviour and each week the young person voted the most useless has to leave, the eventual winner getting a cruise as their prize.

It would be tempting to have a real go at the young people about their uselessness (the trailer shows a twenty-year-old man getting his mum to wash his hair because he couldn’t be bothered) and blatant immaturity. In the first couple of shows, it was obvious that the only things they seemed to know how to do were giggle uncontrollably at everything, get drunk, fight and sponge off others. Some of them supplemented the household budget by stealing from shops and their bosses. None of them seemed capable of taking anything in life remotely seriously (hence the continuous giggling), of resolving arguments without resorting to shouting, or taking any pride in work.

However, the young people themselves seemed very much to be the products of their parents. One woman seemed to think stealing was perfectly fine, that promiscuity is normal and that using people is acceptable, which explains her son very well. They seemed to struggle to accept that their precious offspring could ever be in the wrong and couldn’t deal with their child being criticised, making excuses for them and setting almost non-existent standards. It reminded me of a time I told a small child off for throwing something at me, and her mum threatened to “f**king kill me”, saying that no-one could discipline her except her. I don’t envy that child’s teachers!

At this point, I should put my hands up and admit a degree of uselessness at eighteen. I’d been in a caring role for a fair percentage of my adolescence and so could do most household tasks, but had never been allowed to cook for myself in case I made a mess (my mum was a bit of a clean freak, to put it mildly!). My first meal at uni was burnt toast and overly runny boiled eggs. Thankfully, school cookery lessons meant I didn’t starve or end up existing off pasta (nice as it is) but it took me a while to get used to doing some things for myself. However, one thing I was not for my many faults was feckless.

It seems to me that clear boundaries and expectations are very important in bringing up children, as well as parents being able to deal with other adults correcting their children if necessary. My teacher friends have complained about the difficulties they have had when parents come charging into school whenever their child is told off. It makes it very hard to maintain discipline in the classroom. Similarly, if the parents in the programme don’t want layabouts for children, they need to get their act together and learn to say ‘no’, for starters. Easy for me, with no children, to say? Yes, perhaps, but my years of caring and working with kids in various contexts have taught me that parents and children need to be really that, not friends, at least until adulthood when there can really be an equal relationship. Young people need nurture, care, praise and encouragement. They also need boundaries.

Any thoughts?