RefuJesus

I woke up this morning, looked at my phone, and saw social media flooded with the growing storm over asylum seekers’ children being taken from their families in the USA and detained in cages.

Opening my email, I found a second response from my MP to my letter about the treatment of detainees in Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre here in the UK; he sent me the response of the Immigration Minister, in which she claims the government’s good intentions to treat people fairly and respectfully are in fact reality, contrary to the evidence pouring in from the detainees themselves.

We’re also in the middle of a campaign, spearheaded by Lord Dubs who himself came to the UK as a child refugee in the second world war, to persuade the UK government to do more for today’s vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees and take in 10,000 of them over the coming decade, echoing our wartime response.

Meanwhile, thousands of desperate people are still piling into unsafe boats and attempting the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to try to find safety in Europe, many dying in the attempt.

My Bible reading plan this morning happened to bring me to Matthew 2, in which I read how Joseph had to get up in the night and flee over the border into Egypt with the baby Jesus and his mother Mary to escape king Herod’s attempt to kill the child, and how the young family had to remain in the foreign country’s sanctuary until after Herod’s death before being able to return. Like so many today, they wouldn’t have been able to fill in a visa application first…

And it happens to be World Refugee Day. This year it seems a bigger global issue than ever.

According to Safe Passage this week, there are currently 68 million displaced people in the world, of whom 24 million are refugees. 82% are in developing countries. Over half of these people are children.

Refugees are those who have had to flee for their lives due to some form of fear of persecution. Asylum is an international process whereby those who have to escape their country can claim protection from that persecution in another country. Usually, this is the neighbouring country to their own. Because, like Jesus’ family, people are often having to flee in an emergency, it is not only legal under international law but vital that they are able to enter that other country for the sole purpose of claiming asylum without the necessary documentation that would otherwise be required, and they must claim asylum on arrival. There is then a process within that country to determine if asylum should be granted.

In addition, many people emigrate from their home countries. This happens for a variety of reasons, including for work, family or a simple change of scene, but many are also in desperate circumstances such as crushing poverty.

Probably my biggest fear when it comes to climate change is not that we may lose iconic species like polar bears, as appalling as that would be. No, my biggest fear has long been the borders going up, as more and more people find themselves under pressure to move, either directly because of resource wars or increasing natural disasters, or indirectly as the world becomes more unstable or they find their livelihoods less profitable. I fear this becoming an increased driver of refugees and migration, and that the response of countries like ours that are less affected by these pressures will be to close our borders. Alas, I’m seeing it happening already, along with rising xenophobia and fracturing of non-military international cooperation. I fear the sort of world this will create, where desperate people will have to be kept at bay by force, and will likely respond with terrorism, as desperate people so often do, fuelling a hateful vicious cycle. It’s not a world I want to live in.

Although the vast majority of displaced people are either moving within their own countries or to neighbouring countries, the figures are still shocking. The default position when faced with increasing numbers of people attempting to enter the country either as refugees or migrants seems to be ‘How do we keep numbers down? How do we keep them out? How can we get rid of them?’

What about if we took the time to ask why they come?

I can understand that we on the ‘right’ side of a border want to hang on to the benefits of our position. We feel entitled to the privileges we experience as a result of being born in a safe and prosperous country, despite our place of birth being pure serendipity, not something we have earned ourselves. That entitlement is strange framed like that – but then, a desire for safety and prosperity is no bad thing, and when we have it, it’s no bad thing to want to hang onto it. It only becomes problematic when we don’t want to extend that to others.

I suspect we have more capacity to help than we think we do, but we are still not infinite. We can’t take in the world. But surely the real solution is not to harden our hearts and strengthen our borders, clinging to what we have and shutting out anyone else, but to extend humanity and generosity as far as possible whilst working to tackle the causes of movement, the war, persecution, poverty, that drives it?

As long as we live in an unequal world there will be net movement from more disadvantaged and dangerous places to places of safety and opportunity, either because people have to flee for their lives from the former, or because they will choose to migrate to the latter. Not many will be moving the opposite way.

I dream of a more equal world. For now, we really need to extend mercy, compassion, fairness and kindness to those who come to us and treat them with human dignity, even if some must be turned away, especially considering the horrors and hardships so many have endured and escaped to get here. But long term, I dream of a truly free world. We need to work to understand and end the things that are forcing people from their homes, the war, poverty, persecution and climate change, and work towards a world where all countries are equally safe and prosperous, where people can be free to move as they please, where there is no net movement of people because as many people are moving in one direction as in the other, and there are no refugees. We need to build other countries up, rather than shutting our doors and building up ourselves. That’s ambitious, but surely we are capable of that if we try? Wouldn’t that be what true progress looks like?

Meanwhile, Jesus stands on the ‘wrong’ side of all our borders – with the poor, the refugee, the persecuted, and with those working for them, suffering with them. When we welcome others, we welcome God. Is God truly welcome here, or are we ‘full’? Can we expand our hearts’ borders? I fear that if we don’t, as well as seeing an increasingly dangerous and divided world, it is Christ Himself we will be shutting out.

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White Sky Church

One I wrote back in 2013 under similar skies and frustrations…

 

Oh! What to do with this world?

Some day these white skies have got to break

Black or blue

The haze that obscures You

As if the world would think we never knew You

Let the dark clouds gather

Deep convection of our souls

Finally do some good for this dried-up Earth

Oh! What to do with us?

Don’t let us off

Average as the concrete sky

 

 

Wonder

Can you see the sparkles in the broken glass?

Can you see the stars through the streetlights?

Can you see the grass growing through the cracks?

Or the daisies on the wasteground?

Can you see the hurt child inside the hard man? Inside your enemy? Inside yourself..?

What innocence do your child’s eyes see in the broken places?

This is wonder;

Lifting your sights

Opening your eyes

Awakening you by surprise

Imagination calling you forwards

Where cynicism has no place

This is hope.

Will you follow its playful way?

Oh blessed…

At this time of year, with Switchfoot having toured here this same week in both 2015 and 2017, I’m unavoidably drawn into the memories, reliving all those powerful experiences. There are two experiences within all of that that really stand out; one, really connecting with Jon for the first time at the end of the 2015 tour, when for the first time I felt my fan-love was accepted. The other, that dark night in 2017, the shadow that proved the sunshine of the rest of the year, when I missed Jon play an impromptu solo show at BCDO South, because it happened at 10pm in the chapel, and I wasn’t allowed onto that part of the site till 10:30pm, and depression and anxiety won out.

Add in Switchfoot’s current hiatus, and that was a heady mix of feelings to be carrying when the opportunity arose to go to BCDO South again this year. To begin with I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go. It’s previously felt a bit of an odd evangelical Christian bubble, isolated from reality in more ways than one. There were artists I did want to see, but did I want to see any of them enough to cross the country for? It’s a long way, and the costs would add up. And then, no Switchfoot. It would be the first time I’d gone there without them. Would I want to be faced with all those memories in their absence?

However. I have a second favourite band.

I could never really claim to have ever been a megafan of Delirious?; nonetheless, they’ve been a really big deal to me right from my introduction to them, at a signing in a local record store in early 2000. I ended up front row as they played, lead singer Martin Smith climbing onto the gear cases I was squashed up against and even standing on the CD of theirs I had just bought in the process! I was hooked by their engaging and energetic performance and big sound, and let’s admit it, those dark eyes..! The CD thankfully survived, so I lined up for the signing. I was 16, had never met anyone famous before, and they’d made quite an impression on me; I was starstruck, and they didn’t really have time for me. Ah well. It was amazing!

That was the beginning of the journey. Delirious? were immediately my second band (first place initially going to another band before Switchfoot well and truly won my heart), and over the next few years I followed them avidly. At the time I knew no greater high than the Delirious? post concert rush. In those early days I’d not learned what to do with my heart; I gave it all to my top two bands, obsessing to a crazy extent, finding out everything I could about them, and yet not really giving them a lot to show for it (of course, pre social media, that was a lot harder anyhow…). It wasn’t long before I figured this was unhealthy and that I needed to get things in perspective and focus on God. As a result, I reined it right in. As my love for Switchfoot grew, I swore I’d not be the same with them, that I’d pay them as little attention as possible, and just enjoy the music and focus my heart on God. I didn’t know their names, I wasn’t on their mailing list, I avoided their website, and I never saw them play live. Yet, I loved them more and more, and found God at work through what they do.

Delirious? and Switchfoot fitted perfectly together in those days for me: Switchfoot are American, Delirious? British; Delirious? I used to see a couple of times a year, and yet I never dared see Switchfoot till 2011; my Switchfoot obsession is centred around Jon Foreman and his lyrics and vocals, Delirious? It was always Stu and Stew and their amazing guitar and drums. Delirious? had a cheese-factor Switchfoot never did, yet soloed in a way Switchfoot at least never did in the studio. I’ve long felt almost as at home in Stu’s guitar tones as I do in Jon’s voice. Over the years their respective songs Come Like You Promise and Dare You To Move have both jostled for the position of favourite favourite song (Dare’s been ahead for some time now, but the former holds the endurance record!). Both bands inspired and challenged me with their lyrics (though Switchfoot more so), and I loved their music. Delirious? met my need for a band I could follow, ‘get to know’, and enjoy live, since I’d begun that way with them, whilst something even deeper was at work with Switchfoot.

I got hold of Switchfoot’s Nothing Is Sound and Delirious?’s The Mission Bell at the same time in 2005; I remember being struck straight away by the similar feel of even the cover art, but even before playing them I read through the lyrics to both. Goosebumps. These were powerful words that engaged with the world in all its brokenness, met me where I was, and inspired me to act to make it better. It excited me, and I knew I’d found my place musically.

And yet somehow something went wrong. As I journeyed into megafandom of Switchfoot, and then Jon Foreman more generally, somehow I began to take Delirious? for granted. They were always around. I didn’t even have to make the effort, sooner or later they’d be playing near me. There’d be the same old songs, the same amazing solos, the same goofing around and forgetting lyrics by Martin, that same high afterwards… The last time I saw them was at Greenbelt festival in 2007. I was tired after a long day, and they were playing a similar set to the last few shows of theirs I’d seen. I left half way through to get some rest.

To this day I don’t know what happened*, but the next thing I knew of them they were finishing their final tour. All that time I’d followed them, and been on their mailing list, and known everything about them, and somehow I’d missed their final album, split and last tour. Stew Smith had even been the first to leave the band some time before the end, and Stu G had emigrated to the USA. I was shellshocked and heartbroken. When I got hold of that final album, Kingdom Of Comfort, and discovered it to be up there with my all-time favourite albums, full of the most powerful lyrics, and made for the big stage, I was even more devastated to have missed that closing chapter. I had been a truly terrible fan!

Delirious? left a hole in my heart – both the pain of that bad ending, and the lack of a band to follow. The result? Throwing myself full into my love of Switchfoot, knowing now what I stood to lose, and embracing the megafandom for what it was. The rest of that story I’ve already told of course.

So, here I am in 2018. A decade without Delirious? and though time had softened the pain, I still felt their absence from my life and all my regrets. Meanwhile, I’d spent the past few years learning what it means to love (verb!) an artist, how to be a good fan whilst keeping things in perspective, how to give back, what it can mean to them too to do so, how to build connection. After what Switchfoot’s 2015 tour taught me, I realised I needed to learn from that with other artists too, and that included seeking out what Stu G was up to these days, getting onto his mailing list and social media, and finally showing up as a fan there too.

And now – Stu was coming to the UK to play BCDO (the festival spearheaded by Delirious? keyboard player Tim Jupp), and Martin was also on the programme, along with a few other artists I also liked, including Verra Cruz, also up there amongst my favourite bands. Ok, no more terrible fan. I booked, I went!

We arrived Saturday morning, pitched the tent in blazing sunshine, picked up a programme, and discovered that Stu G was playing almost immediately, so dashed over to catch his set. And oh wow! We arrived just as he started playing Delirious?’s Bliss, and despite him playing at the very civilised Tearfund Tea Tent, with most of the rest of the crowd sat at tables enjoying cream teas, we ran to the front and danced like it was 1999!

Although there as a solo artist, he had a band with him so was able to give us the epic, atmospheric rock he’s always done best, all smiles and clearly in his element. Bliss was followed by the moody solo hit King Of The Stars, the first time I’d seen this live and it was stunning. He then talked a bit about his Beatitudes project; for the past few years he’s been exploring, both practically and through musical collaborations, what the blessings of Jesus mean for us today, resulting in an album, book and film, all of which I can thoroughly recommend. He said that he had found the beatitudes to be less a list of targets to strive for, more a set of promises about how ‘God is on your side at the bottom of life’. And he played the opening song of the project, Oh Blessed, on acoustic guitar, having us sing the title lyric with him. It sounded lovely. Then switching back to electric we were treated to In The Middle from the same project, lyrically powerful and with the kind of heavy riff that Delirious? had been known for. And then, a precious gift – he played the song Kingdom Of Comfort! It sounded as amazing live as I’d always imagined it would, but never thought I’d get to experience. After effectively giving up some of my favourite songs for lost, to finally hear one of them was very healing. And he ended with Delirious?’s Investigate, as epic and soaring as it ever had been, Stu producing a killer solo and reminding me that he is still one of the very best guitarists out there. He looked really happy to see us enjoying it all, throwing a lot of smiles in our direction. Wow! What a way to start a beautiful weekend.

Afterwards he was selling CDs and his new book about the beatitudes Words From The Hill, so I thought I could make up for a lot of missed opportunities and bad fandom by getting hold of them. So I did, and he came out to meet us, and I got the book signed! It was so good to finally meet him ‘properly’; I got to tell him about how I’d been a massive Delirious? fan, had really missed them, how special it was hearing those songs again, and especially Kingdom of Comfort, and told him he was still my favourite guitarist. He was so touched both by our rocking out and my story! And whilst I was speaking, he signed the book:

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Oh my gosh! I may actually have put things right finally…

We saw another couple of bands, and then it was time for Stu G’s second set of the day, also at the Tea Tent. As he was setting up, Martin Smith came up and chatted with him, and there were smiles and hugs between them, and he even helped Stu set up the stage. That made my heart happy! This time Stu kicked off with Delirious?’s Sanctify, which sounded huge. There was a funny moment at the end as he had to sing the line ‘The cloud’s getting bigger now’; he paused, looking up at the perfect clear blue sky with a grin on his face, and sang it with a questioning tone, which made us laugh! Then he gave us Inside Outside, a Delirious? song that he’d always taken lead vocal on, it was great to hear this one live. Then we rocked out through Bliss and King Of The Stars again before having to leave and dash over to the Illuminate stage for the awesome Verra Cruz, whose set clashed disastrously with his! Seriously, that guitar work..!

We got word that Kari Jobe, on Mainstage that evening, would have some special guests 😉 So we rounded off an amazing day of live music at her set. And yes, something precious happened; part way in, she invited Stu and Martin up on stage together to play the old Delirious? worship hit Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble with her! She took the second verse, but it felt like old times, as though I was a 17 year old again at Alton Towers… I was struck by both the immediacy of the memories, and the power those words still hold.

Finally, we also found out that Stu was rounding off his time at the BCDO by showing a premier of his beatitudes film A View From The Hill… At 10:30pm, by candlelight, in the chapel!!! :O

I was so torn. I had sworn to myself and my friends that I wasn’t going to go near that chapel, leave last year’s memories where they were. Of course I wasn’t going to go there. But now… I really felt I should go, as support for Stu, and I felt God wanted me to, that somehow this had been deliberately set up…

So. I did.

I picked a flower to take with me on the way, giving a kick to the gate that had barred my way a year before, as we passed straight through this time. My first thought was that I was taking the flower for Jon, as a way to sort of say ‘I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m here now.’

Then I thought it was like laying flowers at the site of a tragedy to remember and leave beauty in its place…

The chapel was beautiful. I laid the flower by a pillar when we arrived. Stu saw us come in and recognised us and gave us a huge smile!! The film was so deep and powerful. I loved it almost as much as 25in24 and the messages and atmosphere of both fit really well together. It’s gorgeously shot, and follows his journey of discovery with Jesus’ words as he met those living them out and experiencing God’s presence in places of suffering, marginalisation, stories of mercy, or as they sought to bring peace and justice or stand in solidarity with the struggling. Interspersed, it also showed the creative process he went through with a host of other artists (including Audrey Assad, Matt Maher, Martin Smith, Propaganda and Michael W Smith) to craft an album of songs inspired by each blessing.

It occurred to me – that flower was also a thank You gift for God!

Far from feeling like a place of pain, I felt so much peace and presence and healing there. It was such a redemptive experience being there with my next favourite artist, showing him support and being inspired. God was definitely in it.

Stu took questions at the end, and M asked him about his experiences of challenging consumerism in the church, ‘holy troublemaking’ with the messages of songs like Kingdom Of Comfort, when it so often seems like consumerism must never be questioned, even within the church where people seem as trapped by it as anywhere else, when Jesus calls us out of it and to speak truth to power. Afterwards I went over to Stu and thanked him for being there and all he’d done that day and over the years, told him how much I loved the film, and we were able to thank him for being the highlight of a wonderful day. And everything had come full circle. We walked back to the tent with storm clouds flashing dramatically on the horizon.

My heart was content and my mind buzzing. This day had been such an unexpected story of healing and redemption! I’d arrived missing Switchfoot, missing Delirious?, and carrying the pain from both the previous year’s trauma and my unresolved ending with band #2. Suddenly all was well, and God had brought me face to face with it all and met me right where it had hurt, and made something truly beautiful out of it the way God excels at doing best.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’

The following day we saw even more great music, and enjoyed even more hot sunshine. The previous day we had met Marc from Verra Cruz after their set and I’d got to thank him and tell him that their album Emancipation Day was one of my all-time favourites too, and today a band new to us, Trinity, made the first move, coming to meet and greet their audience as we arrived for their set. They turned out to be great fun, interacting with the crowd to a Switchfoot extent, and showing themselves to have big hearts, so again we bought a CD and got to meet and thank them too.

Finally, the weekend was rounded off with a Mainstage set from Martin Smith. Accompanied by members of his band Army Of Bones and his daughter Elle Limebear, he opened with the refrain from Delirious?’s Our God Reigns. He got us all going with God’s Great Dancefloor, it seemed like everyone was jumping from the front to the back, and just when it seemed like it had finished, he decided to do it all again, pulling a group up on stage to dance, and from his grins it was clear he was having a great time with it, it was so much fun! Elle lent her beautiful lead vocals to Waiting Here For You, then Martin ditched his jacket and launched into Oh Praise The Name, spliced with Army Of Bones’ Love Song For A City and some powerful yelling. Oh how I’d missed those Martin yells! Then another special moment; Martin thanked the man whose dream had created BCDO in the first place – former Delirious? key player Tim Jupp, bringing him onstage to big applause and playing their very first song (and the song I had at my baptism), Thank You For Saving Me, together once more. Martin and Elle sang their latest single Jesus Only You together, which was stunning, before moving into a truly epic Come Holy Spirit. Finally, having given us Delirious?’s first song, Martin ended his set with their last song, My Soul Sings. Wow. Oh wow. Another from Kingdom Of Comfort, another I thought I’d never see live. And this song…

I tear up almost every time listening to Kingdom Of Comfort; I hear them signing out all the way through it in the lyrics and the music. It feels like a triumphant climax of an amazing career, finally embracing themselves for who they really were and telling it like it is, but also saying goodbye. And what a perfect ending that song is. If you don’t know it, give it a listen here so you can see where I’m coming from here; in my head, what happens in the music at the end of the song, and album, and band, is this: They are worshipping away, when the clouds part, and heaven opens and smiles down on them, and then they are lifted up into the sky, and for a while the whole sky resounds with the song of heaven… up and up, and eventually they are lost from our sight, and the clouds roll back in… and then we hear the heavenly portal close behind them. The End. Fanciful perhaps, but there’s closure in those closing bars, and it still gives me chills. And for this old Delirious? fan, there could be no better way to close out such a special weekend, reliving the journey, than this soaring worship epic. It moved me to tears.

I’d intended to stay for Matt Redman rounding out the festival, but that was enough. I felt like after all these years I’d finally got to see another Delirious? Concert. Sure I’d known that three of them would be there, it was even the main reason I’d been there, but I hadn’t anticipated anything like this. I totalled it up; we’d seen them play 9 different songs between the three of them over the course of the weekend, one song off each album bar my least favourite, and two from Kingdom Of Comfort. Deliberate..? Certainly healing. And it occurred to me; Delirious? the band are no more, and yet the music is still alive. I can trust God with it. I can trust God with Switchfoot, through all the current uncertainty. We headed off for some tea, hearing Matt’s set drifting over the site as we did, and then the sky was lit up both with celebratory fireworks, and God’s own fireworks from distant storms on the horizon once again. What a weekend!

No regrets. That was perfection.

I even wonder, did I enjoy it more without having to worry about bumping into Switchfoot, finding VIP check-ins or missing aftershows, or even having every performance after theirs feel like a beautiful letdown in comparison?! Maybe so…

So, my take-home message from my adventures in fandom? Artists matter, and God loves fan-love. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t allow yourself to fall so heavily into an obsession they obscure your view of God or get in the way of your personal relationships or the important work of your life, don’t become stalkerish (give them space, and stay out of all parts of their personal lives unless they themselves choose to share with you), don’t develop a reliance on them. But don’t run the other way. Enjoy what they do, go see them, support them, buy their music, their tickets, their merch, let them see your support, create a real, healthy artist-fan relationship; the blessings run both ways. Yes, I still make mistakes and probably always will. But I’m learning!

*Ok, somewhere in there I failed a PhD, got married, and discovered Verra Cruz and Jon Foreman’s Seasons, but even still, no excuse!

Dreams

Dreams are very odd things. One week recently I had a whole series of particularly bizarre ones every single night, which I feel I need to share:

1 – The scene: some sort of stately home. A robber breaks in and demands money of everyone present. Being scared he might search us and get violent if he finds we’ve held any back, we search wallets and hand over £10 notes. But he is also… an entomologist. And he also wants any dead bees we happen to have on us. And we do happen to have a couple to hand. So we give them to him, along with the cash. And then we see him outside after he’s robbed us, looking round the garden for more. (?!?!) ‘Your money and your bees!’ 😀
2 – The scene: a beach somewhere. My husband is tasked with hosting a fundraising dinner. It is banana curry because it has to be Fairtrade. The bananas are whole and unpeeled, and for some reason we need to do a photo shoot of the whole bananas being poured out of something (a teapot..?!) onto this curry.
3 – I’m trying to navigate a city, which is supposed to be Birmingham but is full of imposing and awe-inspiring medieval buildings with tall walls all coloured in reds and blacks, including streets that begin in the open but become interiors as you go down them. I get lost because Birmingham doesn’t usually look like this (for reference, Birmingham is not a medieval city at all!), and end up having to wade through a water feature where objects placed in it eventually get turned to stone (it wasn’t dangerous, you’d have to stand in it for years…) including walking over the back of a crocodile sculpture…! 😀
4 – I’m in Birmingham again apparently!! But it’s not the medieval one this time, it looks more like the real thing. But we have to infiltrate some company HQ to sabotage… something. I’ve no idea what. And it involves going undercover via a Chinese restaurant. And awkwardly after we’ve succeeded in our mission, we end up eating out there and trying not to get recognised…

And then a dream in which we had to drive up a flight of steps in some seaside town, and another in which I met a very oversized cat, and yet another toilet-anxiety dream (I confess this is a recurring theme!) involving all-too-public and laughably non-functional loos… I began to wonder what I’d been eating!

But even with all this going on somewhere in the recesses of my brain, it’s the other sort of dream I’ve been thinking about more this year, the sort that keeps you awake at night instead.

It began in earnest on February 24th. Back in 2015, my hero Jon Foreman had fulfilled a bizarre dream of his own by playing 25 shows in 24 hours around his hometown, and in the process created something far greater than the sum of its parts that left me absolutely in awe, both of him as an artist and of the potential of art itself to change lives. That whole day was filmed, and the beautiful and moving finished film was finally premiered worldwide on that day in February. Watch the 30-second trailer here to get a flavour for it. In keeping with the spirit of ‘25 In 24’, the idea was that fans like me would host house parties (the more random the location the better!) during which we’d watch the film and be inspired to open up conversations about our own crazy dreams. I did. And we were.

We embraced it, going to the beach, bodyboarding, having coffee and tacos, and then watching the film. Although only an hour long (frustrating; what happened to the other 23?!), it is very beautiful. We see snapshots of the event itself, stunning locations, amazing performances, the wonder of a sort of community coming together around it, the tension when things didn’t go to plan, moments of both humour and great depth, insights into the dreaming that went into making it happen, and through it all, Jon musing on what it means to dream, including a moving realisation that we are God’s own dream. We were encouraged to think what our dreams might be.

It stirred up a lot of thoughts in all of us that for a time left us in silent contemplation. And then it sparked conversation. We went out to the park nearby and walked up the hills to think and talk and pray. We talked about dreams we’d forgotten, lost or buried over the years. We found them coming to life again as we talked about them, realising that maybe we’d begun to settle for something less than perhaps we should, and that the dreams were still there underneath, calling us to bigger things.

M and I found ourselves rediscovering our own big dream; one day we would love to buy some land and live there in community somehow in a way that might re-envision what society could look like, challenge the way things are, and reconnect us with the land itself. I’d been terrified of that dream, and had put it aside the past few years, not knowing what to do with it, seeing the enormity of it and our complete ignorance about how to go about it and who to work with. The gap between where we are and where we dreamed of being is just too big, too painful to face. It’s been easier to focus on just getting on with normal life now. And in a different way, so had he. But as a result, we’d grown apart a little, thinking maybe the other didn’t still share our dream, and we’d not made any real efforts towards it either. Talking about it, we realised the dream was indeed still there inside us both, and that was a beautiful, exciting and challenging discovery. We’ve begun to think and talk a little more about where we’re headed, and how on earth to get there from where we are in our normal and so very isolated life here.

And that same evening, we went to see a play that made me look again at my calling, the dream I’ve sensed God dreaming in me ever since I’d first explored the idea of what I was to do with my life, that I was made to ‘care for and work’ this earth. It got me excited again about the way I know God reveals Godself through the wonder of scientific exploration, and the potential for science, environmental science in my case, to work towards God’s coming kingdom. Yet it also confronted me with the pain of having a vocation outside of the Church taken less seriously and supported less than vocations to ministry within the Church.

Big dreams…

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All this comes at the point in the working year where we are having our annual appraisals, and having to set objectives and personal development plans for the coming year. Thinking about it, this is probably the main factor behind my mental health having taken a slight turn for the worst lately. I’ve been worried about it, knowing that though I’d met many of my objectives, there were some I’d barely touched, and finding the thought of having to make some sort of career plan with goals around how I might get there utterly paralysing.

But I decided to face up to it, look full at it, and try and figure out what was going on in me. I realised the objectives I’d avoided were ones that touched on my lack of self-belief, and that going forward I’d need more support to achieve those sorts of goals, and in doing so, carefully rebuild my self-belief. And I had to admit that whilst I have bigger aspirations than my current role, I’m not up to forming any specifics; right now, my goal is simply to stay put, get good at what I do, learn to believe in myself, and be a real asset to my team.

I told all this to my managers at my appraisal and objectives meetings, bared my soul as deeply and honestly as I could possibly stand, and they were brilliantly supportive (thank God I’ve found myself in an environment where this is possible!). It’s now looking like these seemingly short-term aims might well make up my objectives for the coming year, and instead of being forced to come up with a long-term plan, I might instead regain the headspace and confidence to be able to start dreaming again. And there’s a dream in itself…

I took all these things to my counsellor (well… maybe not the silly dreams!), and she thought about it and asked me had I been expected to have a dream and a plan as a child? Well… not particularly, although what child does not get asked regularly what they want to be when they grow up?* No. This fear is rooted in my experiences of having my dreams knocked out of me time and again I’ve run up against career dead-ends rather too many times after having thought I was finally on the road somewhere. Honestly, I could well be there again right now, career-wise, though I’m hoping keeping my hopes non-specific and focussing on doing well now will help if this doesn’t lead anywhere this time. We’ve a lot to work through to help me find a balance between the now and the dreams where I can begin to overcome the fear.

The truth is, I’m afraid to dream… To dream is to see a vision, believe in it, trust your soul to it and pursue it. I’m afraid of this – afraid that I might in visioning see a future too wonderful to attain; afraid of believing it only for it not to come about; afraid to believe in myself for fear I’ll let myself down; afraid to trust my soul to something that may again be snatched away and leave me wounded; afraid in case I find myself pursuing a mirage…

Yet where would we be without vision? I believe passionately in living in the now, and personally it’s where I have to be focussed just now to be able to relax about my future dreams. We also need to ground dreams in the present reality to be able to know how to get there, or they remain pie-in-the-sky. But we need the dreams too, or we stagnate! The thought I may just comfortably doze off into an easy life that goes nowhere is more terrifying than the thought of daring to dream but running into the recurring nightmare of failure. I want a sense of direction to show me which next steps would be a good idea. I don’t want to be unprepared for opportunities to do the amazing things I may one day be able to do. I don’t want to sleepwalk through my life and miss the chance of adventure and of really making a difference somewhere.

The ‘Godincidences’ around dreams just keep coming, so I know this is where God is at work in me just now. I’m truly thankful that this season of life is reawakening me to my dreams, reminding me that they are still there inside me, scary as they are, and I hope through it all that we’re able to start bringing them to life.


*I wanted to be a writer, and ‘do something with wildlife’. Here I am, living the dream, right?! To be honest, at 34 I’m still trying to figure out the answer to that question, as I suspect most of us are. I’d like to think if parenthood ever happens I’d ask my kids who they want to be instead, and help them see that that’s a different question to what career they might be interested in pursuing…

My place in the sunlight

I spent the whole of last Tuesday utterly convinced that the following day would be a Thursday. No matter how often I reminded myself it was Tuesday and that, typically, Tuesdays are followed by Wednesdays, I couldn’t persuade myself of this one. That week, I felt sure, deep down, did not contain a Wednesday, and was going to skip straight to Thursday. For context, I don’t work Wednesdays, so that I felt like instead of my tomorrow being a day off, I’d have to get up and go to work, and be going straight into an all-day meeting and evening social.

The next morning, I woke up to find it was indeed Wednesday. No all-day meeting.

What’s more, it was actually warm and sunny.

That too took me by surprise somehow – not that I hadn’t seen the forecast, I’d been looking out for it coming – but it felt like spring might never arrive this year. Maybe in the same way as the day before I’d been convinced somewhere inside that this week we’d be skipping straight past Wednesday to Thursday… yet there I was, living and breathing a Wednesday.

I don’t know why this year feels so dark and cold, to the point that somewhere inside I’d accepted it as a given that this year didn’t have a spring. But spring comes, relentless, regardless how awful a winter preceded it. However cold and wet the season, spring will come. Even a year with a rubbish spring and summer will pass, and spring will come again the following year. However cloudy, the light still expands. However wet, the birds still sing. However windy, the flowers still bloom.

How have I got stuck in winter? How have I lost that perspective? I’ve not lost hope; but I have needed my sight lifting.

So. On that wondrous Wednesday, I got a load of chores done successfully, ate well, and then cycled down to the sea to think and write. It was very windy, and I got totally sand-blasted, but the sky was completely blue, the weather warm, and I had my feet in the soft, soft sand. And that truly felt amazing!

Thinking about it, what’s true? Well – last year was fearfully, supernaturally wonderful and full of miracles (and I was still not entirely well), and this year will be different. But though I’ve been feeling overcast, things are good – and who knows the miracles that will unfold? God is moving me forward, that’s for sure, and though following takes me down difficult and sacrificial paths at times, there’s no greater adventure and God is good. God is love. There is a lot of love in my life. There will be miracles!

So far this year I’ve not felt as rubbish as I was feeling two years ago, but nonetheless the depression has returned, as though the sky has clouded over and will not shift. The pain itself has seemed harder to identify than before, more nebulous, though probably also rooted in the old fear of failure, of failing here socially and in terms of making progress towards my dreams. Yet… this past week, I’ve felt the sun on my skin again, for the first extended period since maybe January. It’s surprised me into realising I’d slipped under the clouds, and into the realisation that there may yet be a spring!

I need to seek the sunshine – physically and metaphorically; find where winter is passing, see that bigger picture, breathe the fresh air, notice and remember what’s good. Put the work in to look after myself in the moment, but also to keep looking for healing, wherever the hurt lies. This is a season for self care, to the max.

What’s inevitable, really?

Spring follows winter and seasons change. God’s kingdom will come, with or without my involvement. I can throw myself into that and embrace it, being all I can be each day, and that will remain.

I’m pretending I’m ok. That’s not inevitable. I can relearn honesty and openness and vulnerability. I can again find ways to be real about how cold this past few months has felt.

I feel alone with the pain this time. That’s not inevitable either. The truth is I’ve been creating distance from people by hiding my reality. In truth, if I make myself vulnerable, I may still find myself alone (that’s by definition what it means to be vulnerable), but… seasons change. At least we’d all know where we really stand. And it’s never the end of the story. More likely, I will again find solidarity and sympathy. It’s likely me that’s sick of my illness, rather than that my friends are sick of hearing about it.

Can I get back to a place where bad days come like passing clouds on a sunny day? Clouds will come. That’s inevitable. Some days, it really is cold and overcast and I just have to huddle up and wait it out. But there are other days when if I get on my bike, put in the effort and make it down to the coast I can find sunshine.


More on self-care and fighting depression with truth here 🙂

Breaking the silence at Yarl’s Wood

On 24th March, M and I got on a 7am train to travel to Yarl’s Wood detention centre near Bedford. We went to join a solidarity demonstration, aiming to give support and encouragement to the (mostly) women inside the centre who were themselves protesting their treatment. 120 of the detainees had been on hunger strike for a month, and we felt so moved by that show of courage and desperation that we felt we had to show up to support them and do what we could to make their voices heard.

Yarl’s Wood is an immigration detention centre. People who do not yet have leave to remain in the UK can be raided and taken to these centres, and locked up there indefinitely. Sometimes they are released, sometimes they are deported, and often without notice. Those detained may be undocumented immigrants, or they may be detained during the process of claiming asylum. They may have had asylum claims rejected and are either in the process of appealing their rejection, or have been left destitute with no means of leaving the country (and in any case, nowhere to go to if they feel that ‘home’ is no longer safe for them). It is government policy that asylum seekers may neither work nor claim benefits, so that if their claim is rejected they are often left destitute, in theory to ‘persuade’ them to leave.

Claiming asylum is a right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If a person is in danger and has to flee their country, they may claim asylum on arrival in the first country they arrive in after escaping. If the receiving country finds their claims to be reasonable, they must accept the person and give them protection as a refugee. But countries such as the UK make it a very difficult process. As part of the policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ towards immigration, targets are set for the number of deportations, which means officials are under pressure to reject as many claims as possible to keep numbers of accepted refugees small. As a result, asylum seekers are often lied to or given confusing and conflicted information on arrival about the proper process to making a claim, meaning they can easily be refused refugee status later when it is shown they didn’t follow procedure. If they do claim, they can be kept waiting long periods, refused arbitrarily and forced to go through long appeals processes, made to give concrete proof of their claims, or provide documentation they cannot obtain without putting themselves further at risk. Conversely, they may be ‘fast tracked’, giving them just days to make their case. And all the while, they may be detained and risk deportation.

We first became aware of what was happening a few years back, when a couple we knew were detained, mistreated and deported.

The husband was involved in a political party in his home country, but his political involvement attracted the attentions of a rival, more extreme political group that were known for ‘disappearing’ political opponents. Realising they were in danger, but not understanding their rights to asylum, the couple decided to escape to the UK where they could study towards their profession under student visas. When their studies and visas ended, they then tried to claim asylum, but were rejected as they hadn’t claimed on arrival. They appealed the decision; whilst in the UK, the situation back home had deteriorated. His brother had been hunted down and murdered by the extremists, and furthermore, the couple had become Christians here, which put them at additional risk of persecution back home (and was also how we had come to know them). They went through lengthy appeals; they had the documentation necessary to prove their identities, their political involvement, the activities of the rival group, their relation to the murdered man, his death and the facts surrounding it, and there was plenty of evidence for their new faith being genuine. At the end of the process, their claims were eventually thrown out on the grounds that, as corruption existed in their country, they could in theory have bribed multiple agencies to falsify all the documents. There was no evidence that they could provide that would be accepted in any circumstance, simply because of their country of origin. (That is particularly awful; I challenge you to find me a country in which corruption is completely absent.)

Now pregnant, the couple were detained, I believe in a sudden raid, and taken to Yarl’s Wood. Whilst there, we got word that the husband was being physically abused. The church attempted to gain access to him, to have his wounds investigated, and gain access to a legal investigation into how he had been hurt, but this was denied. The border agency then made a rushed, botched attempt to deport them. The private security firm guards contracted by the agency tried to force them to board a flight to their country of origin; when they struggled to resist this and screamed for help, they were both beaten, subjected to anti-Christian abuse, and handcuffed so tightly that their hands turned blue due to loss of blood circulation. Other passengers on the aircraft who expressed concern were told not to worry, and that the guards would keep them safe from the ‘illegals’ who were making such an unruly racket. The pilot then intervened, and upon seeing how the couple were being treated by the guards, ordered them all to leave the aircraft.

Eventually the agency managed to deport them by separating them, holding them in solitary confinement in different detention centres for a period, and then misinforming both of them that the other had been deported so that they finally consented to be taken. We heard from them shortly after their return that they had immediately fled the country again and were now in hiding over the border. Thankfully their baby survived.

What outrages me most about this process is that people fleeing danger in their own countries are treated with fewer rights than criminals, despite having done nothing wrong. I accept that our country’s resources and capacity to help are not infinite, and also that some bogus claimants will try to play the system, and that it is legitimate (though in my opinion not necessarily moral) to want to exclude such people and ensure that they use legal means of entering the country if they wish to do so. But I don’t accept that we should deny compassion and human rights to anyone, especially those who come to us claiming to be in grave danger and seeking a safe refuge.

Even the most dangerous serial killer is considered innocent until proven guilty (this is because it is easier to disprove a person’s claim to innocence by producing evidence of their culpability than it is to produce evidence that nothing happened, as well as to avoid the possibility of a miscarriage of justice). They must be given a fair trial. They have access to legal representation, medical care, and protection of their lives. Once they are found guilty, they are given a defined sentence. Once they are locked up, they lose their freedom for the duration of that sentence, but are still given adequate food, clothing and medical care, and allowed contact with their families unless deemed dangerous to them.

But an innocent person seeking sanctuary, who has committed no crime but may have escaped a war zone, or torture, or persecution due to their religious or political beliefs or sexuality, is considered guilty until proven innocent. They can be detained without warning, and without trial, denied access to legal representation and medical care. Their detention can be of any undefined duration. And whilst detained, they may not be given adequate nutrition or medical care and may be held in solitary confinement, without access to their families or other detainees. And all this is extremely damaging to a person’s physical and mental health.

Human rights abuses are occurring. In addition to taking away a person’s freedom, access to adequate care, dignity and rights to a fair trial and determined period of detention, there are allegations from former detainees of physical, sexual and emotional abuse taking place within the secretive confines of the detention centres, away from public scrutiny, so numerous that such treatment may be the norm.

When we heard the women of Yarl’s Wood were on hunger strike as a result, we felt we couldn’t stand by and do nothing to back them up.

When we arrived at Yarl’s Wood, we saw a large, long accommodation block, surrounded by a tall, green security fence and CCTV cameras. Outside the fence, stretching most of the length of it, was a crowd of fellow demonstrators, many of whom were themselves former detainees of Yarl’s Wood or other centres, with PA systems set up. Inside the fence, though the windows of the centre were only able to be opened a hand width, we saw the vague shapes of many women detainees in the windows, heard their voices calling for freedom, human dignity and closure of detention centres, and saw their waving hands. Many of them had put up placards in the windows with slogans such as ‘No human is illegal’, and some were waving bras(!) or beating the windows with plastic bottles. Placards on the outside of the fence held encouraging messages about other detention centres that had been closed down. The demonstrators had put up a phone number that detainees could call to be put through to speak to us over the PA, and between chanting (‘Yarl’s Wood – shut it down!’) and beating on the fence to make a noise that the detainees could hear to know we were there with them, we were addressed by speakers from both sides of the fence. It was incredibly powerful; the stories we heard and the courage evident in the detainees’ protest were moving and humbling.

We heard both current and former detainees tell their stories. Some had escaped torture. Several were in danger of persecution or of the death penalty for their sexuality (they told of the difficulty and humiliation of having to try to prove their sexuality). One was in danger because of her opposition to the government. Some could not speak of what they had escaped. They told how they were qualified in fields such as nursing and engineering. We heard from some how they longed for home, but could never return whilst the danger persisted, from others how frustrating it was to be unable to do the jobs they were qualified for here and realise their potential.

We heard story after story detailing demeaning treatment from officials, of dismissed evidence, of being detained without warning in dawn raids. We heard of lies they’d been told whilst in detention to repeatedly raise and dash hope, amounting to psychological abuse (the worst example was from one of the current detainees, telling us how another couple had suddenly been summoned early one morning, told they were being released and to pack because they would be leaving in a mere matter of hours, and being overjoyed – only to find it was a deportation attempt). Several reported that detainees were offered a paracetamol for any medical complaint, regardless what it was or how severe, so that detainees themselves sometimes had to call an ambulance to gain proper medical attention, and of suicide attempts being met with removal of possessions and humiliating denial of privacy as the suicidal person was put under constant watch. And we heard that they were offered ‘work’ such as cooking, decorating, cleaning and repairs at the centre – for £1 a day! Tantamount to slavery, and assisting in their own detention. Several former detainees had told how they had been detained and released multiple times.

We also heard stories of courageous resistance; of hunger strikers, of detainees standing up to the authorities, of those put to work in the centres deliberately being non-cooperative (for example, one man told how, made to work in the kitchen, he had emptied a pan onto the floor in front of the guard who was ordering him to work). Former detainees urged those inside to stay strong, to keep resisting, to make life difficult for their captors (one spoke of how he had been accepting and compliant during his first detention, believing what he was told about his release being sped up if he behaved well, but found that those who made the most trouble were released sooner, and had subsequently learned to fight back), and to believe that change is possible and that we were here supporting them. They told them the authorities were running scared, and encouraged them to keep up the pressure.

These people showed tremendous strength of character, enduring and resisting under conditions I don’t doubt for a moment would break me. I was profoundly humbled.

It was clear that the process was both inhumane and damaging for individuals, but also ineffective and costly to the state.

These detainees strike me as brave, educated people, wanting to contribute to society and with so much to offer; already brave in escaping such awful dangers, they are now speaking out for justice in a shamefully hostile environment here. I was humbled and inspired by their bravery and strength. I felt honoured to have the chance to meet some of them, to hear their stories, and I couldn’t help feel that these heroic individuals could only be of benefit to our society for their courage, compassion, wisdom and determination to see the world change for the better. The more I heard, the more I was inspired to keep speaking out with them.

Short-term, I want to see asylum seekers treated like (suspected) criminals – and it appals me that that would be an improvement on the current situation. I want to see the hunger strikers’ demands* met. I want to see asylum seekers informed properly of their status, rights and procedure, and what they can expect of their treatment from the outset. I want to see them given fair trials. I want them to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (ie, that their claims would be taken to be true with the onus on us to try to disprove what they were saying and produce contrary evidence, or else accepted). I want to see those detained given definite, fixed detention periods, and full access to food, clothing, contact, legal services, medical care, protection from abuse, and human dignity whilst detained. Medium-term, I hope one day we can see the end of detention all together, and a much fairer and more compassionate approach to asylum.

Long-term… I dream of a world that is safer and more equal, where people can move freely as they choose, where borders are reduced to a line of an address and an administrative convenience, and no longer deny anyone’s freedom. So long as some countries are relatively poor, dangerous or unstable there will naturally always be both a flow of refugees and a separate pressure of net migration away from them, but I believe the better response to this (though more difficult) is to work towards the prosperity, stability and safety of those places, rather than to close the borders of our country and our hearts against those trying to find a better life here.

Break the silence, cross every border that divides us, unite us…’

– Delirious?, Break The Silence

Below is a copy of a letter I’ve written to my MP; if you want, please feel free to use this as a template to write to your own MP, though I’d advise you to put it into your own words since I’ve written it from my own perspective as someone who attended the demonstration and heard these stories first-hand. You can send an email to your MP quickly and easily here, all you need to know is your own postcode as the site finds your MP’s name and contact details for you from that.

I recommend the Detained Voices blog for more stories from inside the detention centres, and Liberty for more on asylum and human rights.


Dear MP,

On 24th March, after hearing that 120 detainees had been on a month-long hunger strike in protest at their treatment, we went to attend a solidarity demonstration at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre. I want to tell you what we saw and heard there, and ask you to speak up on their behalf and mine as one of your concerned constituents.

(I here added much of what I’ve written above)

I believe human rights abuses are taking place in these detention centres and in the asylum system as a whole. It appals me that people who have committed no crime but are fleeing danger and horrors are given worse treatment and fewer rights than even the most dangerous criminals. I want to at the very least see asylum seekers treated like suspected criminals: I want to see them informed properly of their status, rights and procedure, and what they can expect of their treatment from the outset. I want to see them given fair trials. I want them to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (ie, that their claims would be taken to be true with the onus on us to try to disprove what they were saying and produce contrary evidence, or else accepted). I want to see those detained given definite, fixed detention periods, and full access to food, clothing, contact, legal services, medical care, protection from abuse, and human dignity whilst detained.

Please would you do all you can to put pressure on the government to:

Short-term:

  • Meet the demands of the hunger strikers (which are detailed below*, as written by them)

    Longer-term:

  • Close detention centres like Yarl’s Wood and move towards a fairer, more humane process
  • End the ‘hostile environment’ policy to immigration

Our country is not ‘full’, and I believe there is plenty of capacity, will and ability to help many more people seeking sanctuary than we are currently. Furthermore it is inhumane to set quotas on the numbers of people fleeing for their lives who we will help.

I want to see the government stand up to xenophobic rhetoric head on and assert the UK as a place of safety for those in genuine need of it, as far as we possibly can as a prosperous nation, whilst working towards a safer world, tackling the dangers that force people to flee their countries in the first place.

Thank you for your time.


*The demands of the Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers:

1. Shorter bail request periods
Legally it should 3-5 days, however it can take anywhere up to 21 days, or even a month before you get a bail hearing date

2. Amnesty for those who have lived in the UK 10 years and above

3. End indefinite detention
Detention periods shouldn’t be longer than 28 days

4. End Charter flights
Charter flights are inhumane because there are no prior notifications, or only an oral notification with no warning. They give no time to make arrangements with family.

5. No more re-detention
Redention should not be allowed – if you have been detained once, you should not be re-detained if you are complying with the laws they have applied. This is a contradiction, you are being punished for complying with the law; it ruins the whole purpose of expecting compliance

6. End systematic torture
Systematic torture takes place in detention – at any point an officer could turn up and take your room mate; you’re constantly on edge, not knowing what will happen next. Those who are suicidal now have their privacy taken away because they are being watched – you don’t know if an officer is coming to check on you or coming to take you away. Our rooms are searched at random and without warning; they just search first and explain later

7. Stop separating families
Separating families is inhumane – people in here are married or have British partners and have children outside, and they are denied their right to private life and right to privacy; their Article 8 rights

8. No detention of people who came to the UK as children
Young adults who came to the country as minors should not be detained, deported or punished for their parents’ immigration histories

9. The beds need to be changed
Some of us have been here for a year on the same bed; they’re the most uncomfortable beds

10. LGBT+ persons’ sexuality be believed
It should be understood that explaining your sexuality is difficult

11. Fit emergency alarms in every room in the detention centre
Only some rooms have them, and there have been a lot of cases of people being very ill in places where they can’t call for help

12. Give us access to proper healthcare

13. Give us proper food to look after our diets

14. Release people with outstanding applications

15. We want to speak to Alistair Burt MP for the constituency