Category: Ecumenism



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All the talk of the Mayan prediction of the end of the world made me think of the expression ‘Good Riddance’ and where it originated. Apparently Good riddance was a 16th century expression that usually meant ‘deliverance from’ or ‘getting rid of’..the most heard version ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’ is seen as an expression of pleasure of getting rid of something..usually an individual.

That was my first thought about 2012..”yeah, Good riddance to bad rubbish”.

What a year 2012 was, the Piece de resistance of all time lows has to be when my then ‘fiancé’ disappeared into a drunken stupor, 6 and a half months ago to be exact and was never seen again, well.. by me anyway. A number of consequences on my poor psyche and soul manifested during this time. When I look back I never cease to be amazed that I got through this time with relatively healthy coping strategies. These mainly consisted of boring my poor mates stupid and wailing very loudly from the gut region while crying out to God ‘Lord have mercy – and while we’re at it, where the f*%k are you?”.
He was there, near, in the shit and the pain, close to the crushed in spirit as usual. Meanwhile, I left my job, withdrew from community and laid low like a road kill that has not quite been finished off.

I found out who my friends were.

I left my entire field of work, took time to develop some sort of ‘balance’ for the first time ever. I learnt to say no to some things and yes to others

Many wonderful things also happened in 2012. 

I visited and fell in love with Barcelona with my gorgeous daughter. Tried my hand at sailing, began learning Spanish and a lovely friend took me to Greece. I got a new job using skills I didn’t think I had. More friends chipped in and paid therapy bills for me ;-).

My gorgeous little nephew was born, Beau Huxley Hampton.

When life’s road is heading in one direction and unexpectedly the road forks drastically, it can make for a complete re-evaluation. I don’t believe God ordains everything that happens in our lives, rather that we place ourselves in positions to be hurt after making poor decisions based on self. I do believe He uses circumstances to heal up old wounds which may have just had a plaster on them but still be festering away. Outdated pride which has been a trusted and long term friend can be stripped away. As they say in AA “you can’t save your face and your arse at the same time”. Dropping the ‘Must be strong’ mask and learning how to lean on others becomes an unavoidable reality.

What seems an unimaginable crisis at the time can lead to a rebuilding that many years of talk therapies, self- knowledge or self-help groups and books couldn’t possibly achieve. In the Bible it is referred to the Refiners Fire

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” Job 23:10

“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God” Zech 13:9

Bring on 2013 and Happy New Year!


This weekend, we embarked on a sail from Brighton Marina to Portsmouth harbour. We were all set for an 8-10 hour relaxing sail to Portsmouth. The guys were going on to watch the Olympic sailing in Weymouth, I had decided just to sail down to Portsmouth with them. There were 6 of us on board, a couple completing their competent crew training and the rest of us sailing for fun with a bit of learning thrown in.

As soon as we left the safety of Brighton marina harbour wall, the catamaran began rocking from side to side dramatically. The ornaments fell off the windowsills and we couldn’t stand up. Like trying to read the air hostesses faces on the flight when the fasten seatbelts lights go on, I studied our skipper’s expression to see how he looked. Duncan looked calm enough. He already knew both the tide and the wind were against us all the way but I hadn’t realised this was what would be the outcome.

‘It will settle in a minute,’ I kept thinking, ‘we must be in the swell of the boat in front.’

There was no boat in front.

Just a Force 6 westerly wind, we were sailing West. The boat proceeded to rock and sway like a relentless rollercoaster ride for four hours. Each one of us dropped like flies to the point that people were throwing up over the sides of the boat and none of us could string a sentence together. Something surreal about being with a group of strangers, all slightly green in colour, unable speak and all thinking  ‘hey ho, only another 7 hours of this. Somebody make it stop!’

A Catamaran is a sturdy boat,  it felt safe enough, just pretty uncomfortable. We also trusted our skipper, who calmly made us tea and bacon butties.

During recent storms in my life I wish I could have trusted in God the way I trusted our skipper that day. Like those four turbulent hours on board, I wanted the grey skies to clear quickly, the rocky waves to subside and the sea be calm again so I could luxuriously lie on the front deck pretending I was living someone else’s life.  Instead, I gripped the sides with white knuckles, inwardly moaned and groaned and wanted a shortcut. But life’s’ not like that.

It is in the depths of our suffering, when our frail human backs are against the wall that we really cry out to God. I mean really cry out to him. And he says ‘I know’.

‘I knew you before you were born and will know you when your hair is white with age. I even know the number of hairs on your head’ (paraphrased)

‘I know suffering’, he says, ‘I too suffered’.

It is then that we know he is in our midst. He sees our tears, hears our cries, heals our wounds and gives us His peace when things sometimes feel too much to bear.

When we’re clinging on with dear life to our own despair, focusing on the size of the waves and the motion sickness, it can be easy to miss him handing out the bacon sarnies.

Peace be with you.


I’m now three weeks into being tobacco free. After all the procrastination, fear and cognitive dissonance which has gone on for a good couple of years it was actually NOT THAT BAD!! There were only a couple of days where I thought I may have to stay away from humans for fear of being a risk to myself and/or others.

But far more exciting is that I now consider myself to be a sort of unofficial lay member of the Benedictine community. Some of you who know me will know I have a sort of (some would say weird) fascination with all things monastic. I have recently returned from a trip to a beautiful Abbey in Kent which has been inhabited by a Benedictine order of nuns for 75 years. I went originally in the interests of my work. This place was recommended to me as they have a heart for addiction there. I wanted to experience this place myself with the idea of possibly referring people I may come across in my work who need some respite and peace.

As usual when the times of these retreats come round in my life, im usually pretty frazzled and in need of a breather.  It is hard to describe the experience of going somewhere like this. To start with the ground is holy and sacred , the place smacks of peace and purity. The Benedictine gift of hospitality surprised me (I had of course gone with a large bag of Waitrose luxuries as only a recent non smoker needs – in preparation for solitude and starvation) The guest house was gorgeous and served home-grown food 3 times a day. As usual the Divine Office punctuates the day with the reciting of the Psalms  5/6 times, from Vigils to Compline. The beauty, rhythm and mysticism of 1400 years of spiritual practice has a depth which is difficult to describe and comprehend.

Some people are under the illusion that monastic living is easy and escapism from life in the fast lane. In a way it is a more peaceful way of life, but of course it comes with different challenges to those we face out here, living in close proximity to 12/13 others and  there being absolutely no distractions from ourselves and each other. Benedict’s Rule was designed to make living in community work as well as it can, with the emphasis on the rhythm of  contemplative prayer, work, relationship and spiritual growth.

I want to try to live this way as much as possible in my own life. I need this rhythm.

Today my Esther de Waal commentary to The Rule arrived. (I’ve been trying to muddle through with no commentary.) Like the Gospel, The Rule is a living thing as relevant today as when it was written 1500 years ago and has been a successful tool for business management as well as community living ever since. Benedict saying he wanted to prescribe ” nothing harsh or burdensome ” for his followers.

My initial revelations are how much I need this stuff as I’m self-centred to the core. I am so easily distracted from my prayer life that the routine, discipline and repetitive nature of the Liturgy of The Hours helps me stay focused on God not reliant on how I FEEL.  I need the structure of more silent time with God and in his Word. I’ve also become aware of how much excess stuff  I own. Not in some weird ‘hair-shirt’ kind of way, I’ve never been particularly materialistic, most of my clothes are bought in charity shops but there lots of them and when I want something I buy it. Full stop. Oh, and I am addicted to buying books. One click ordering – currently books about monastic living. The irony.

This is just the beginning of going a bit deeper with God. I’m a bit scared but very excited! Watch this space.


A friend recently got me this picture as a get well card. She made me smile and got me thinking.

I smoke and I’m a Christian. I’m a Christian and I smoke. To say I am in a minority is an understatement.

Most of my friends and family know me well enough to know that to judge, disapprove or lecture just doesn’t work. Anyone who knows anything about addiction knows that unless the user literally has enough, reaches rock bottom and personally integrates into their own heart enough ‘cons’ they are not gonna stop doing what they’re doing.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Paul’s ‘bang on’ description of addiction in Romans 7: 15-20)

Addiction is irrational. As they say in AA, cunning,baffling and powerful.

To stop anything, we need at least to be willing. There are stages of change which include pre-contemplation, contemplation, decision and action. Lightening bolts of divine intervention are  not my experience but I believe they happen. We must want stop doing what we are still doing (that we no longer want to do) and God meets us to provide Grace and healing in our discomfort (that is his speciality). Jackie Pullinger led hundreds of addicts to Christ but only the ones who wanted freedom in the first place.

I’ve met people full of  shame about smoking. Secret smokers who have hidden in garden sheds and lived their lives in misery, concealing their guilty habits from loved ones and friends.

Do i think smoking is big and clever and am I proud of it? No. Do I try to hide the fact that I smoke from others? No

Secrets make us sick.

I’m not saying I don’t feel uncomfortable at times. In recent times pride has kicked in and I may choose to wait an extra half hour when in certain company before having a cigarette. Society has changed and I have changed, smoking is now extremely anti-social and 99% of my friends are non smokers.

Do I plan to give up? Yes.

Am I ready to give it a go? Not quite.

Do I have a relationship with God? Yes

Jesus came to set us captives free.

The Prodigal Son enjoyed the reckless living and partying until reaching his rock bottom. When he returned, his Father was waiting with open arms, threw a party and put a ring on his finger. (Luke 15:11-32) Some of us make many detours on the way home from the party.

God is all about redemption and in our lives we will sometimes require redeeming again and again.

I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone. St. Francis of Assisi


I couldn’t help but hold my breath in anticipation at the ensuing fallout of the BBC 2 documentary earlier this week. Louis Theroux visited America’s ‘Most hated family’, the Westboro Baptist ‘Church’ for the second time.

For anyone who isn’t in the know, the WBC are a family with unconventional beliefs and actions who keep themselves busy picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, other human rights activists and basically have something to say about anyone or anything that contradicts their extremely narrow perception of how people should be living their lives.

They state that their beliefs are based on the Bible. I have also mentioned them here.

Louis Theroux is no stranger to unusual people and  he said that the Phelps family are some of the most extreme people he has ever met.

This caricature of Christianity has come about from the cherry picking of Bible verses to justify cruelty, extremism and  homophobia. The rest of us are called to pick up the pieces, answer the resulting questions and bear witness to a loving God. This has been my experience this week.

Maybe this is how God works. Maybe he uses Louis Theroux and his predictable atheist bias to visit one of the most extreme groups in the world and deliberately opens the dialogue to give the rest of us the chance to declare that the message of Christ wasn’t full of fear and judgement, fire and brimstone, but was one of love.

We have an enemy that will use any tactics, including Bible believing Christians/hate groups  to detract from us carrying out the mission of God on this earth.

Perhaps God opens doors through programmes like these and any kind of religious extremism and gives us the opportunity to refocus ourselves on the real teachings of the Gospel such as looking out for the marginalised, feeding the hungry, healing the broken and bringing peace.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.Ye shall know them by their fruits. (Matt 7 15:16)


Isaiah 58:12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Catapulted into a hyper vigilant state from my early teens I am about as worldly as it gets. I’ve never had time for the supernatural, fairy tales or sci-fi. It’s the gritty, real and often dark that has always drawn me and still does. Add to the mix a couple of ‘unavailable’ male role models in my life and I have an ‘unavailable’ God, right, get me? Yes of course I talk to God but I have to admit to often not expecting him to speak to my heart. That’s why i choose to be  part of a community of believers who build and strengthen my faith.

Then I have weeks like this week, where lots of things speak to me and I hear God. I’m not talking about receiving materialistic answers to prayer/prosperity gospel stuff, getting what I want and things working in my favour. I mean I am learning to see God’s hand in my life and things working together for his purposes and for the higher good.

A few days ago,  I was with someone who was incredibly grateful for me spending a couple of hours with them. ME?! It was a humbling and slightly uncomfortable experience where someone seriously thought that I had more important things to be doing. It took me back to those feelings of unworthiness, the belief that another human being wouldn’t really want to spend  time with me. Being so aware of the time and believing that they really couldn’t wait to leave and had much better things to be doing. I can take for granted how  those feelings are not there today. The changes in my life have been so gradual and subtle to the point that I fail to see them until others point them out. It’s called restoration.

In Narcotics Anonymous they say ‘the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel

This week I was able to clearly see God purposes for my life. I don’t mean that all of a sudden I heard an audible voice calling me to be a missionary overseas or become a nun. I did see how all our past experiences can be used to give hope to others, bring light to the dark, rebuild and restore. God accepts us exactly as we are, we can do nothing to please him. He sees our hearts, our wounds, our destructive behaviours and he accepts and loves us. We are called by him to bring that exact same patient, accepting and forgiving heart to others. God uses us in ways we can’t ever foresee or imagine.

Our past hurts and stories become gifts in his plan to repair all things broken.


I’m having a bit of a lazy morning, drinking coffee, having a cigarette and I happen to have the TV on which is very unusual. Half an hour later and I am thoroughly hacked off, heart pumping and I find myself  emailing This Morning defending the name of Christ.

What happened there, you may well ask.

Well in case you havent heard about it, in September 2008 in Cornwall, two Christian B & B owners refused to let a room to a gay couple (who, incidentally were married in the eyes of the law). The case has now been heard in court and the couple  have been fined £3,600. you can see the story here.

I have no doubt that this has been very stressful and traumatic for all concerned and everyone is entitled to their beliefs. However, when running any kind of commercial enterprise, those beliefs can’t be imposed on others.

This lack of hospitality and blatant discrimination shown by so-called Christians does yet more damage to the name of Christ and makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian.

B & B owners Mr and Mrs Bull say they feel Christianity is being sidelined. While high-profile cases like this plaster the UK press and go against equality laws and human rights it will be. As followers of Christ, we will continue to be seen as judgemental, bigoted hypocrites. Again the message of God’s all-inclusive love and Grace gets drowned out by legalistic moralism. Christ continues to be misrepresented.

“You can’t turn away people from a hotel because they’re black or Jewish and in 2011 you shouldn’t be able to demean them by turning them away because they’re gay either,” Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said. “Religious freedom shouldn’t be used as a cloak for prejudice.”

Jesus had very little to say about purity, if anything. In fact what he did say was “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He  violated and subverted all the Jewish purity codes and laws and his message was of God’s love and Grace. For all. No exceptions. The only people who hacked him off were the religious ones.

Discrimination on the grounds of how people choose to live divides and excludes. Compassion unites people and includes. The old purity politics were replaced with Jesus’s radical compassion politics.

Jesus knew God as the compassionate one, not the God of requirements and judgements.

 

For related posts, see A Rainbow Warrior.


                                                           

I can do everything through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

 This time last year I was excitedly planning a trip to South Africa. The trip was  sponsored  by about 15 amazing friends and blessed by God from the outset. On Jan 9th 2010 I landed in Cape Town. I left freezing ice and jammed up transport systems in the UK and landed in the blistering heat of Cape Town in the midst of  summer. I stayed with Mama Zulu and her family in Kayamandi township and worked with women and children for a month. It’s impossible to describe the paradoxes of SA. Stunning beauty and magnificent landscapes. A country of obscene wealth, literally over the wall from people living in abject poverty. The month I was there opened my eyes like nothing ever had before. I can honestly say I’ve not been the same since.

In March, I went back on the payroll again after time off licking my wounds (God and burn out). I began working with disadvantaged teens.

Later in March, a few of us headed up to the challenging and creative Rob Bell’s “Drops Like stars” tour in London.

Delighted to get the chance to hear activist Shane Claiborne speak in London in May. Now there’s someone who walks the walk.

July included The Hop farm festival in Kent with the unbelievable Mumford and Sons, Foy Vance, Ray Davies and Bob Dylan on the bill. It was so hot we had to wear head coverings.

I lost my Greenbelt virginity in August. Highlight was Fr Richard Rohr‘s teaching on dualistic thinking. He also said he believes the future of Christianity is ecumenical , ‘how healthy’ I thought. Waking up with ice on the outside of the tent in August was weird.

As I look back over my calendar from this year, I’ve had more NHS dental appointments than one person should be entitled to, and a lot of accompanying dental anxiety. I’ve also been prescribed reading glasses and developed a hiatus hernia. I’m meant to watch my diet but I don’t. All of a sudden it seems age is upon me.

I lost the 2 stone I had gained when stopping smoking by starting again (Don’t try this at home children).

I’ve (wrongly) kept Amazon in business with my one – click Christian book ordering. I’ve questioned things deeply and through slowly deconstructing ‘Religion’ and observing culture wars, I’m truly starting to love Jesus. I would be considered a Liberal by many folks standards and that’s cool with me. I think Jesus was pretty Liberal.

In October, Sarah and I flew off for an exciting weekend in New York city. Another place that must be experienced to be believed. We visited Revolution NYC in Brooklyn and heard from Jay Bakker and Rev Vince Anderson about the wonderful work they are doing spreading the pure message of Grace. We then sailed back for 7 days across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 and got off that ship heavier than when we got on.  

God has a sense of humour in my dating life, I’ve come across everything from bigoted and weird fundie Christians to a non-Christian guy I went out with out of a mix of curiosity and rebellion who got completely drunk very quickly and said  ‘Christ’ as a swear word every five minutes.

In November I turned 3 years sober. I am no longer a regular attendee of AA meetings although I do pop in occasionally. I am honoured to co-facilitate a Recovery course through the church and its a joy to see people getting some hope back in their lives. I’ve also known a few less fortunate who have died this year.

This may not sound like much of a year to many reading this but for someone who needed some kind of chemical enhancement to do life and spent a lot of time navel gazing, 2010 has been a big, amazing year of Faith and growth.

Thank you Lord and Happy Christmas all.


 

Not long ago I went to Worth Abbey for a breather from the rat race and an (almost) silent 30 hour retreat. Worth Abbey is a Benedictine monastery and the setting of the hit BBC TV show The Monastery (completely recommend it for anyone who hasn’t seen it by the way. All episodes available on YouTube.) Anyway, so many hours in my own company with little or no distractions was plenty for a beginner! There was no contact with friends, texting or compulsive checking of my Facebook feed.

It is said that when we are alone with ourselves and in the silence that’s where God is to be found (Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10).

Whether atheist, agnostic or believer, take away life’s distractions and we find out what we worship. What tends to fill our minds at those times tends to be our master or golden calf.

No man can serve two masters. Over the years I have served many masters, from alcohol and drugs to needing to be needed. Thanks to Gods grace many of the unhealthiest ones are gone but I still kneel at the throne of a double latte and a few roll ups to help me through the day.

And sometimes I forget God.

Recently our pastor was discussing Sunday worship within the church setting. I must admit that I do get confused as to what is a ’emotional high’, similar to what people experience at football matches and what is truly experiencing God’s presence. We were asked to think about what distracts us and how hard it can be to focus solely on God for that short time each week. Although Sunday worship is only a small part of worshipping God, I have to admit that singing anything with the word ‘Awesome’ in it has me off and running stuck in my little critical, oh so human self.

Back to the monastery, it wasn’t all the noise of my head contents swirling round like a washing machine on spin. Benedictine monks practice the liturgy of the Hours. Seven times a day, prayers, hymns, scriptures and Psalms are recited and sung. It was a privilege to be able to join in with some of these (I skipped Lauds,the 5 30am one!). It really was the most beautiful thing, the rhythmic praising and acknowledgment of the presence of God throughout the day.

Of course I came back from my retreat enthused and determined. I was straight on to Amazon ordering my own copy of Phyllis Tickle‘s “The Divine Liturgy Of The Hours”. I was spiritually recharged and ready to embark on acknowledging God at marked intervals throughout the day like so many who have gone before me.

So how am I doing with my monastic inspired living?  Well, when I’m not consumed with self, obsessing about blog material or just generally living with free-floating anxiety, I’m learning to see God at work in my life. Slowly but surely and I guess that’s all I could ask for really.

One of the monastery guests asked Abbot Christopher Jamison, ” Can you smoke while you pray?”. “No”, he replied “but you can pray while you smoke.”

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