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 candleto 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!
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
Inspired to pray by this video from Christians in Politics.
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.
Mr Pilgrim lovingly agreed to attend a Duck Identification Workshop with me (run by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust) last Saturday. We spent an hour in a community centre listening to a fascinating presentation about local waterfowl and their habitats, and then walked around nearby Stockers Lake looking for ducks. The workshop leader had great binoculars and a telescope plus expert knowledge which we needed!
We saw: coots, tufted ducks, a swan, cormorants, goldeneye, gadwall, great-crested grebe, mallard, pochard, shoveler, wigeon, moorhen, lapwing, lesser black-backed gulls and black-headed gulls.
Ducks can be dabblers, divers, grazers or predators
Coots and moorhens operate in different ecological niches (and so have very different looking feet!)
An unfamiliar bird Small Boy and I had spotted earlier that week was a little egret
The presentation finished with some ideas of how we could help ducks (interestingly, mallards – the ducks of our childhoods, the ducks of picture books – are in decline). One of the ways we can help local waterfowl is by using less water; households in Hertfordshire (for reasons unknown) have above average use of water (160 litres per day rather than 150 litres).
So what can we do to reduce our household water use?
Affinity Water suggest having four minute showers rather than a bath. I’m not sure this is realistic! I’ve been timing my showers this week (try it!) and I can have a shower in under four minutes if I don’t wash my hair but it’s nine minutes if I do.
Ensuring the washing machine and dishwasher are full before using.
Turn off the tap while brushing teeth (does anyone still leave the tap running?)
Only boil enough water for immediate use.
So much of choosing to seek to live justly is about less – less comfort, less convenience, less choice, and maybe less cleanliness!
I picked up rubbish, developed a new hobby of butterflying, started looking for birds near our home, visited Bempton Cliffs to see sea birds, read a lot of books about nature and wildlife, climbed Roseberry Topping, spent a total of 25 nights sleeping under canvas, looked up at the stars, watched live badgers, walked on beaches in the south-west and north-east of England, had a tour of Church Farm by Farmer Tim, and read BBC Wildlife magazine.
I didn’t achieve my goal of freshwater swimming although I did swim through Durdle Door in Dorset. We also didn’t make it for a walk by a viaduct as when we got there Small Boy and Little Miss were fast asleep and it was raining!
This year I will be doing the Read Harder Challenge by Book Riot and as last year, I want to use the library as much as possible.
We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is—a perspective shift—but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.
I have just spent two days at The Justice Conference – well, almost two days, I missed the evening sessions as finishing at half nine is just too late for me now! I hope to catch up the sessions I missed through purchasing the talks on a USB.
Not too far from home, the conference was at The Drum in Wembley, the UK’s greenest public building. Little Miss, Small Boy and Mr Pilgrim came with me on the train on the first morning – a train ride is fun when you’re small and I was glad of the company!
My head is still spinning as I begin to process the sessions and seminars. Full of poetry, drama, talks, panel discussions and audience questions, the days were full of challenging content. I want to think more about:
Encouraging young children to engage with the Creator and the natural world (I found out about a church that meets in a park! Park Church, Luton)
Making space to be creative and the importance of creativity
The Pilgrim family’s giving
Connection and holism – why is it that many of us don’t join the dots and see how our the way we live our lives (often in over-consumption) has an affect on others? Why is there still a dualism to our thinking? What can be done about this?
The highlights from me were the variety of voices – there was a diversity in gender, colour, nationality and background. An LGBTQ+ perspective was missing though.
My favourite speakers were Mandisa Gumada, a South African woman from Green Anglicans, and Micah Bournes – my new favourite poet. If you have time, I recommend listening to some of his spoken word poetry.
I’ve signed up to Jeremy Williams Make Wealth History blog and am looking forward to reading his book, The Economics of Arrival, which comes out next year.
Hopefully, as I read and write and think and talk, I will be able to share further thoughts here.
Advent starts in about six weeks and I’m already looking forward to four Advent activities I’ve planned.
Wearing my fair trade Christmas tree hat – I didn’t need it but it’s beautiful and fun! Little Miss adores wearing it and looks so winsome. I don’t look quite so cute but it’s creating joy and laughter.
Reverse Advent calendar – Grandma has already bought the children some exciting Advent calendars. Thank you, Grandma! But I want to do something alongside Lego and Peppa Pig which turns our attention – and our time and money – to those who are in need of some help.
We are going to make a reverse Advent calendar. In previous years, the logistics have overwhelmed me but I have just added 24 items, such as a bag of sugar and tins of rice pudding and custard, to my online shopping order. Each day in Advent the children can choose an item to go in our Advent Box and then together we can take these gifts of food to a local charity which runs a foodbank – dropping off weekly rather than just before Christmas.
Last year, a friend told me about the Jesse Tree – making ornaments for a Christmas tree which tell the story of Jesus. I’m fairly rubbish at craft and so have ordered a book to help! My hope is that this activity will not only help Little Miss and Small Boy learn about Christmas but will also remind me and Mr Pilgrim of the wonder of Jesus’ birth.
It can be easy to have good intentions but then not to actually do anything. I find planning – and then writing about my plan – means my idea is more likely to become reality!
Advent is still over a month away so there’s still time for you to plan a way of giving, discover something to read or do, or even buy Christmas-themed head-wear!
It’s a long, hot summer. Here are some collected thoughts about living justly in the holidays.
There’s been some holiday highs:
Camping – Family Pilgrim enjoyed a week camping in Dorset. I’ve loved our camping trips this year and am already thinking about next year’s. We live more simply (no screen time!) and love being outside.
Beautiful parts of the country – we haven’t travelled very far this holiday but we’ve enjoyed seeing beautiful parts of the English countryside.
Butterflies – I am becoming a big fan of butterflies and loved seeing them on the Dorset heath. I have also taken part in Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count at home in the garden (with the help of Small Boy). We only saw ‘cabbage’ whites and it was tricky to judge whether they were Large Whites or Small Whites.
Crochet water balloons – ‘Bathies’ as Little Miss has named them are small woolen items crocheted to look like a balloon. After seeing the campsite littered with balloon pieces from water balloons, I decided to try crochet water balloons. We had fun yesterday trying to ambush Mr Pilgrim.
Swimming in the sea – Swimming in the sea is one of my favourite activities. I learnt to swim in the sea as a child and I always feel refreshed, revived and restored after a dip. Thank you Grand-père for teaching me to swim – and to swim safely – in the sea. I have now discovered that it is a great way to have some peace!
Making ice lollies – we now have an apparatus for making ice lollies which saves money and single-use plastic. I also gain Parent Points with the children – but lose Dentist Points.
Eating Mr Whippy ice creams – We ate a lot of ice creams on holiday and I always chose My Whippy ice creams. A tasty way to reduce single-use plastic! Confession: I let the children choose their own ice creams so not only did I buy treats in single-use plastic, they were also from Nestle (I’ve avoided Nestle since I was a teenager because of the Baby Milk Action boycott): Smarties Pop-Ups, Nobbly Bobbly ice cream and Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles lollies. I can’t bring myself to say no when they have set up their heart on a ‘rainbow’ lolly.
Suspended coffees – we had lunch in a community cafe in Dorset which operates a suspended coffee scheme. We paid for two extra coffees which will then be available to someone in need another day.
Cycling – Mr P and I hired a tandem and enjoyed exploring the Dorset countryside and the coast.
Climate change – I’m (mostly) enjoying the weather. It certainly made camping easier and more enjoyable! But I’m aware that the cause of this heat wave is climate change and I’m challenged to once again think about my carbon footprint and how to reduce it. It’s not a big thing but I have stopped listening to the radio all day. It’s a big step for me as it’s a sign I am becoming more comfortable with silence.
Holiday hunger – food banks are seeing a greater demand over the summer holidays and many are experiencing low stock and empty shelves. There are two food banks near me and I added a few extra items into the shopping to help re-stock their shelves.
Period poverty – I’ve been wondering about young women experiencing period poverty over the school summer holidays. What do they do if they have been reliant on the Red Box Project in the school? I know that many of the schemes are working with youth organisations who are seeing young people over the summer. Again, I bought a packet of sanitary towels (since I converted to the Mooncup and CSP, I never them buy them for me now) and dropped them off at my nearest collection point.
Loneliness – I was delighted to discover that one of the local churches decided to run its usual toddler group (expanded for older children) last week. It can be hard for parents and children when usual activities and groups pause over the summer. A morning spent making junk models and chatting to others can make a big difference to someone’s week.
People sleeping rough – I try to avoid buying water in plastic bottles but sometimes it’s the best thing to do. Please consider giving some bottled water to someone sleeping on the streets. This hot weather is very dangerous for people without shade, without sun cream and without access to water.
As the holidays continue, I am going to look for ways to love more and to act justly.