books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature · Social justice

Christmas is coming

We’ve had Halloween and Bonfire Night and so thoughts now turn to Christmas. But…before Christmas, there is Advent.

Advent – a season of expectation and preparation. I think it’s one of my favourite times of year. Maybe because I am a person who loves to prepare and who loves the joy of anticipation. Advent is rich in symbolism and grounds us in God at a time when the voices of commercialism are at their loudest.

Here are my ideas for celebrating Advent this year:

Reverse Advent Calendar – the Mini-Ps are going to make a ‘reverse Advent calendar’ for our local foodbank. Together we will choose items to buy and then take them up to church each week and place them in the foodbank collection box. We will also read It’s a No Money Day by Kate Milner – a beautiful, tender, heart-warming and gentle book that explains what foodbanks do.

Last year, we coloured pictures from a Jesse Tree book which worked better than expected! The children really enjoyed the colouring and this year, I plan to have an actual branch to stick the pictures onto!

I have also bought an Advent candle to light each day. Hopefully, this will be more suitable than my solar-powered fairy lights which were a feeble addition to our street’s Christmas decorations! There just wasn’t enough sun to charge them so they were very dim. However, they worked very well in the summer months when we were camping!

Mr P and I both have Advent books to read: I shall be reading Freedom is Coming by Nick Baines and Mr P, Advent for Everyone by Tom Wright (one of his favourite authors).

I also want to try some of the activities in Wild Advent, such as making jar-jar lanterns, looking at the stars, and making a nativity scene out of leaves, stick and moss.

Sometimes I think I must come across very serious, worthy and austere. Don’t worry – there is a lot of fun, joy and laughter here.

The Mini-Ps have Lego Advent calendars from Grandma and I expect I shall be helping to create Star Wars vehicles out of Lego at 6am!

From Advent Sunday, I also allow myself to wear my Christmas tree and my Christmas pudding hats. I am also planning an Advent hairstyle!

Christian · Social justice

Justice and Worship

I’ve been wanting to write about justice and worship for a while now but haven’t been able to arrange my thoughts. I’m still not ready really. I have questions but it’s time to share and maybe have some conversations.

I’ve realised earlier this year that I feel a particular closeness to God where I am singing worship songs in a social justice context, such as at The Justice Conference. I’ve noticed how I feel at home in an Anglican service where issues of justice and poverty are mentioned each week through the liturgy and prayers. Recently, we sang Tell Out My Soul which is based on the Magnificat, Mary’s prayer at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

Luke 1:51-53

(There’s a great article on the Washington Post about the significance of Mary’s prayer.)

Sunday morning worship doesn’t make sense to me anymore unless justice is incorporated.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about the intersection of  sung worship and social justice and what that could mean. I’m not a singer or a musician or a worship leader.

So far I’ve found three ways:

1) Sung worship as prophecy – when we sing we are proclaiming God’s will to be done and his kingdom to come. We are proclaiming freedom, peace and justice.

One of my favourite songs is Andy Flanagan’s We are Blessed – a song for which he gets no royalties as he doesn’t want to profit from a song about justice. Have a listen!

2) Lament – there are plenty of laments in the Bible – laments that eventually turn to praise. I want to learn more about lament and read Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah – a Korean American pastor who planted a church in a deprived area. He writes into the American context but so much of it can be applied to a UK context (and goes really well with We Need to Talk about Race by Ben Lindsey). I was moved by the death of a young homeless woman in the town where I work and wrote a short lament for her.

3) Worship as protest – I would like to go to the Faith Bridge which is currently being organised as part of the October Rebellion. But the pressures of day-to-day life mean that it wouldn’t be a wise decision. Christians are gathering there to prayer and to worship.

There’s a long history of worship as protest but protest should also inform our worship. I’ve been listening to Andy Flannagan and Thandi Gamedze’s talk from 2018’s Justice Conference called Justice and Worship, and Thandi talks about finding the protests and using that cry for justice to inform our worship songs.

I know that I am just dipping my toes into an ocean here and this is just the beginning of a journey.

allotment · books · Christian · community · Ecological concern · nature · Social justice

What’s on my shelf? (Part 4)

Once again, I find myself reading half a dozen books at the same time:

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson

I love Dave Goulson’s writing, having read A Sting in the Tale earlier this year. We made the hard choice not to go and hear him speak at a Wildlife Trust event last week; we are trying to keep September as free as possible to help with the back-to-school adjustment.

The Garden Jungle is full of ideas (some simple, some needing space) for gardening for wildlife. I have a dream of completely changing our front garden so that we have grass, plants and a pond.

The Big Six by Arthur Ransome

Reading children’s books set in the 1930s is very relaxing! I enjoyed reading Coot Club on our holiday in East Anglia (Mr Pilgrim is now half-way through it!) and I’m now reading The Big Six which is also set on the Norfolk Broads. There’s a simplicity and a joy in reading about children sailing, fishing and bird-watching.

We Need to Talk about Race by Ben Lindsay

Ben Lindsay is a church leader in London and writes about the black religious experience in the UK. As a white woman, it has opened my eyes and I hope that I am changed because of reading this book. Each chapter ends with questions to consider and I know I need to keep going back to this book. If you are part of a church, I would recommend reading this.

The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes

I spotted this at a friend’s house. She had borrowed it from our local library so I didn’t want to request it from there! I haven’t reached the sections on allotments yet but I’m enjoying looking at history through the eyes of gardeners.

Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers by Peter Marron

This beautiful book about the names of butterflies and moths was a birthday present from my gorgeous daughter. (I think she had some help from Mr Pilgrim.) I love words and names and history and butterflies and this is a book to treasure.

Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Holiday Adventures Part 2

We’ve just returned from another week’s holiday in our caravan, this time in East Anglia staying on the Suffolk coast.

Jupiter and Saturn were visible to the naked eye, delighting Small Boy who loves learning about the planets.

A kingfisher was spotted on one of our boat trips on the Norfolk Broads – my first ever! We also saw common blue butterflies (another first), grey seals, a marsh harrier and reed buntings.

The kingfisher prompted me to find the sonnet As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerald Manley Hopkins and to re-read the kingfisher acrostic poem in the beautiful Lost Words books with poems by Robert Macfarlane and illustrations by Jackie Morris.

 As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells. 

We particularly enjoyed Ross’s Wildlife Boat at Horsey Mere which had a little fore cabin so the children had a secret place to hide, play with toy birds and look out of circular windows at passing boats and birds.

Another highlight was RSPB Minsmere – we visited three times, there was so much to explore! We loved the pond-dipping activity, the woodland dens and the Wild Library.  (The cafe provided a variety of vegan dishes and was making a concerted effort to reduce plastic.)

There are so many beautiful parts of the UK with many still to discover!  

It’s now the end of (meteorological) summer and the start of the new school year. I’ve been feeling down as life returns to routine and rotas, to desks and tables, homework and uniforms.

I remembered that I love autumn (the children want to make conker caterpillars!) and that life outside doesn’t have to stop. The allotment is calling!

1 September is not only the start of autumn, it is also the start of the liturgical season of Creationtide.

Creator of Life, The Earth is full of Your creatures, and by Your wisdom you made them all. During this Season of Creation, open our eyes to see the precious diversity that is all around us. Enlighten our minds to appreciate the delicate balance maintained by each creature. Inspire us to conserve the precious habitats that nurture this web of life.

(Extract from the Season of Creation 2019 prayer)

Christian · community

Clearing away the rubbish

This morning, Small Boy, Little Miss and I were litter-picking as part of a church ‘Helping Hands’ event. I found myself getting annoyed as, once again, I was picking up other people’s rubbish: drink cans, cigarette butts, sweet wrappers and bits of plastic.

And then I thought about my rubbish: my short-tempered-ness, my judgementalism, my selfishness, my envy…….

Who takes my rubbish away?

Our church is now part of an ecclesiastical mash-up – a joining together of a Pentecostal congregation and an Anglican congregation. Even though Sunday mornings haven’t changed much, I have found myself feeling increasingly at home within Anglicanism: the importance of words, the heritage, the architectural and material symbolism, and the theological space for uncertainty and mystery.

Who takes my rubbish away again and again and again?

Most merciful God,

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

we confess that we have sinned

in thought, word and deed.

We have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

In your mercy

forgive what we have been,

help us to amend what we are,

and direct what we shall be;

that we may do justly,

love mercy,

and walk humbly with you, our God.

Amen.

(From: https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/service-word/service-word-morning-evening-prayer-night-prayer )

May the God of love and power

forgive you and free you from your sins,

heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,

and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord.

Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Extinction Rebellion

This is Just Reflections first ever interview! I’ve tracked down someone who took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests and asked him a few questions as I wanted to find out more (it wasn’t that hard as he sits next to me at work).

Dido: Thank you for agreeing to this! Can you explain why you took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests? 

I’ve known that climate change is a big issue for a long time. When I was at school I used to make what I thought was a really clever joke telling people that they needed to switch off lights when they left a room if they didn’t want to drown. A joke is never really funny when you have to explain the punchline, which I always had to do – the electricity for the lights was generated from burning fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels increases C02 in the atmosphere, which increases the greenhouse effect, which will warm the planet enough to eventually melt the ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, resulting in massive flooding! 40 years later the joke still isn’t funny, but this time it’s because everyone knows about climate change but we still leave the lights on! 

Last year I went with a few friends (from a group we have at my Church called Just Living) to a Green Party meeting where someone read out a statement about Extinction Rebellion. It was the first time I had heard about them. The statement pointed out that all the talk we make about climate change doesn’t seem to make a difference to how people and the government act. Everyone knows about the problem but no-one seems to do anything about it. Now is the time for action – non-violent direct action. They drew parallels with the civil rights movement and talked about how we need to undertake acts of civil disobedience to force people and governments to act. There is a moral imperative to act in disobedience as the issue is so important to the survival not just of humanity, but to a lot of life on the planet. It was a powerful message, but I had reservations; were we really going to change people’s hearts and minds by blocking roads and annoying them? I cycled home pondering these things in my heart, but I didn’t actually do anything about it for quite a while.

Dido: Can you
describe the demonstrations? What did you do? 

I missed the bridge protests last year as I was visiting my son at university, but I went to the Blood of our Children demonstration in March this year. I was deeply touched by this protest which involved pouring litres and litres of fake blood on to the streets outside Downing Street to symbolise the catastrophe that awaits our children if we don’t act now on climate change. It was incredibly moving – the visceral sight of so much ‘blood’ flooding into the gutters, the poignancy of the funeral atmosphere, the powerful and profound speeches. Afterwards I walked down to the Tate to see the documentary photographs of Don McCullin. It was a really upsetting exhibition – image after image showing the terrible things that humans can do to each other. I couldn’t stop crying. And I kept thinking how important it was to stop climate change becoming the cause of more suffering. As the speeches at the demonstration pointed out, it will be the poor who will suffer first, millions of people. We can’t let that happen just to preserve our own comfortable lifestyles.

I also attended the recent protests in London around Easter. Once again I was more of a supporter than an active participant. I brought along my reservations and unease along with my support, thinking, “Well, I have to do something!” I went down to Waterloo Bridge with my daughter (taking photos for an A-level project) and as a small act of disobedience we added a couple of plants from our garden to the growing garden on the bridge. Fired up from the first day of protest I bought some spray chalk and was prepared to re-appropriate the congestion charge road markings at Marble Arch, transforming the two Capital Cs into a message about Climate Change or Cutting Carbon. But when I got there someone had beaten me to it! I got my money back on the spray paint. The next day with a pack of chalk sticks and the help of my son I did help to transform a BUS LANE marking on Waterloo Bridge into the message BUST PLANET. I was amazed that everyone who passed stopped to take a picture! We were only re-chalking someone else’s faded work, so couldn’t really take credit either as wits or true activists!

The atmosphere at the protests was amazing, it was like a week-long street party. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Rebels had all been asked to commit to a ‘no drugs or alcohol’ rule and I’m sure that helped. The few interactions with blocked drivers that I witnessed were firm but very polite.

On Easter Monday my wife and I were took part in a citizens’ assembly at Marble Arch, a kind of open democracy where small groups discuss their ideas and feed them into the decision-making process. Extinction Rebellion are advocating this as a way to involve everyone in coming up with ideas on how to tackle the climate emergency. Our Easter Monday discussion was just to decide on the direction of the protest after the first week.

Dido: Do you think
the protests have had an effect?

To be honest I didn’t expect too much from the recent protests. I still had my reservations on whether inconveniencing people helps to change their minds, especially stopping public transport. Also I wasn’t expecting a few thousand rebels to make much of an impact. I’d recently been on the anti-Brexit march where the streets of London were blocked by literally millions of people, in a procession stretching all the way from Marble Arch to Parliament Square, and that march was completely ignored by politicians. I suppose that’s the Extinction Rebellion’s point – direct action can make more impact than big marches. I think the protests resonated through strong imagery like the garden bridge, the pink boat in the middle of Oxford Circus and through the commitment of the thousand plus arrestees. The timing was perfect too, with David Attenborough’s TV programme, The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report, and Greta Thunberg’s visit all happening at the same time. So the issue of climate change really did come into the public’s attention – and Parliament’s attention. Parliament acknowledged the climate emergency, reacted positively to the idea of citizen’s assemblies, and even admitted in the last week that the Heathrow expansion needs to be looked at again in the light of climate change.

I don’t know if this will result in real political action, but I’m much more hopeful now.

Dido: You’ve already inspired me to swap to vegan pizza and vegan ice cream! (The Ben and Jerry’s cardboard-packaged, vegan, fair trade ice cream was very popular at dinner with Family Pilgrim!) What else can we do as individuals in the fight against global warming? 

Eat all the food that you buy (food waste is one of the major contributors to global warming – methane does more damage to the atmosphere than CO2,).

Eat less meat (none if you can)
From farm to fork, meat production emits way more damaging greenhouse gases – methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide – than a plant-based diet!

Eat less dairy (none if you can).

Drive less.

Don’t fly (greenhouse gases emitted higher up in atmosphere cause even more damage than if emitted on the ground).

Reduce your consumption
(of everything!)

And of course switch the lights off when you leave a room… it’s no joke! 

books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Inspirations

I’ve been inspired this week:

  • Inspired to pray by this video from Christians in Politics.
A video from Christians in Politics about Brexit
  • Inspired to take the train by Professor Kevin Anderson who appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme on 9 May. He last flew in 2004 and travelled to a conference in China by train – it took him 11 days. He believes we need to radically change how we live our lives if we are serious about climate change. Have a listen on BBC Sounds – it’s at 1hr 15mins.
  • Inspired to reduce meat and dairy. There is a growing awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet by eating meat and animal products and so when a new vegan cafe opened near my office this week, I was keen to visit. The chocolate brownie I ate yesterday was rich and chocolaty and I’m looking forward to trying the spinach filo pastry.
  • Inspired to pray (again!). I was given a copy of a little book called Five Ways to Pray for Your City. Using words from the Bible, it has short sections with ideas for prayers. Sometimes I find it hard to pray and a new tool can reinvigorate my prayers.
  • Inspired by Rachel Held Evans: #becauseofRHE was the hashtag on Twitter this week as people described how Rachel had inspired them in their faith. Heartbreakingly, Rachel passed away last weekend following a short illness, leaving behind her husband and two young children. I have cried – wept for her bereft family and friends and wept too as I remembered the impact of reading her book A Year of Biblical Womenhood. Writing about Junia, the concubine in Judges 19 and Huldah, she gave me a new perspective on myself and on the Bible. She gave me the the words Eshet Chayil – woman of valour. I will miss her writings and her wisdom.

Christian · Ecological concern · nature · Uncategorized

Creepy-crawly love

I love insects. Really, I do. Over the last year, I have grown to love creepy-crawlies. Now, I’ll still shout for Mr Pilgrim if I see a spider in the sitting room and I’m not saying that I won’t ever swat flies or mosquitoes but I think bugs are pretty awesome.

I’ve written before about my new enthusiasm for butterflies but who doesn’t love butterflies?! They are graceful, colourful, and an inspirational metaphor. Other insects are harder to love but the more I discover, the more my fascination and appreciation grows. I’ve just ordered Extraordinary Insects: Weird. Wonderful. Indispensable. the Ones Who Run Our World.

My enthusiasm has been ignited by the wonder of Small Boy at all things insect. He is currently enthralled by a library book called Find out Bugs. We’ve found a new favourite caterpillar, the woolly bear caterpillar, who lives in the Arctic and takes 14 years to complete the cycle from egg to moth. We’ve learnt there is only one insect which lives in Antarctica, a midge, and we’ve had fun being bug detectives!

Butterfly Conservation have a campaign called Moths Matter, and yes, they do. (Don’t tell Small Boy but Mr Pilgrim and I have signed up to go to a moths night!) Moths matter and so do bumblebees, stink bugs, dragonflies, bombardier beetles and jewel beetles.

Why do they matter? I think insects are great because they just are – created by the Creator, they are valuable in and of themselves. But they also provide many benefits to us, such as pollination and pest control.

Insect populations are decreasing around the world and so let’s do what we can to help. Let’s not mow our lawns as often, avoid pesticides, plant wildflowers, build bug hotels and make sure we always have water in our gardens (if we have one).

Christian · Ecological concern · mental health · nature

Season of singing

For now the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in the countryside; the season of singing has come, and the cooing of turtledoves is heard in our land. (Song of Songs 2:11)

Frogspawn in our local pond; Mrs Blackbird and Mr Blackbird gathering building materials from our garden; bright splashes of celandine by the roadside; the soundtrack of birdsong as I walk to collect Small Boy from school – Spring is here.

A spring is in my step. For the first time in a while, I laugh inside and feel like a carefree girl.

books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · mental health · nature · Uncategorized

A blue tit in the bird bath

Illness, an allergic reaction and stress meant our weekend didn’t go to plan. Yet, in the tiredness and tears, were some memorable moments of joy.

One of the reasons we bought our house (and not the one next door) is that the kitchen sink overlooks the garden. Washing dishes on Saturday morning, I caught sight of a blue tit splashing in our small bird bath.

We love blue tits in our house. Small Boy found me reading about birdsong and we discovered that blue tits tweet ‘see see choo choo’. We often pretend to be birds, bugs and sea creatures in our house and Small Boy enjoyed being a blue tit: ‘see see choo choo’.

(If you are interested in learning how to hide like an octopus, find food like a bee or hop like a frog, I recommend reading Howl Like a Wolf).

All four of us gathered by the windows and excitedly watched our garden guest bathe.

In the afternoon, we headed to our allotment. As we parked, we saw a small bird hopping on the grass (a red wing) and long-tailed tits were in the bare trees at the foot of our plot. Later, a robin drew near hoping for some worms (good news for us and the robin, Mr Pilgrim dug up lots!). Mr P threw one to the robin but the bird was too timid and the wise worm wriggled away. Probably for the best!

Little Miss got bored and kept declaring: ‘I want to go the library!’ Mr Pilgrim kept digging while the children enjoyed choosing books and I picked up my order of Fascism by Madeleine Allbright.

I’ve not seen any butterflies yet although there have been sightings on the Herts and Middlesex Butterfly Conservation website. I’m looking forward to seeing my first butterfly of 2019 and wondering what it will be.

My Valentine’s present was A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson – all about bumblebees. They are fascinating little creatures and it’s a delight to read Dave Goulson’s humorous yet scientific (he’s a professor of biology) prose.

Lent is approaching and I’ve bought Wild Lent (full of outside activities to help us encounter God through creation). I’m also thinking about taking up one of the Living Lent challenges, organised by the Joint Public Issues Team.