Tag Archives: Community

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…

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Looking for Europe 14: London – loud love

October 31st

Now things were really starting to get disorientating. Where were we, exactly..? We’d been at a show in Manchester the night before, slept in Birmingham, and were now going to London before coming back to Birmingham but sleeping in Nuneaton… oh help!

Even if we barely knew which city we were in, or to be honest, who we were, we somehow got ourselves out and onto the train, headed in the right direction, and with breakfast successfully obtained. I was so tired; the first thing I saw on exiting the train was a branch of AMT Coffee, and I beelined straight to it!

We hung out, recaffeinating, for a while until I heard from M that he had also arrived in London, and we headed off to meet up with him. He was already at the agreed meeting point when we arrived, and predictably had found the most awesome busker, possibly the coolest looking guy I’ve ever seen playing complex and rhythmic Spanish guitar. We stayed and watched him for a bit, and then went in search of lunch (to M’s favourite falafel shop, which he had find memories of from his time working in London!).

Gradually I began to feel a little more human! We headed to the hostel and checked in, and all of us crashed out. It took some effort to shake us awake enough to head back out again, but we did eventually drag ourselves and each other off to the venue.

Cold air, friends and pre-Switchfoot excitement did me good! We hung out with the US fans in the VIP queue, and before too long my own bandmates showed up too! They were not doing VIP, so M went and waited with them.

Drew’s daughter checked us in today! She had her work cut out, as this was by far the biggest VIP event I’ve been to (there were around 40 of us, which I appreciate is not large by many standards, but for Switchfoot in Europe that is a lot!).

This was an actual large venue, with a second tier of seating and very ornately decorated, the first time I’d seen Switchfoot play at such a venue since my first show back in 2011. Everything since has either been clubs of varying degrees of smallness, or large festivals, and since I loved the small and intimate shows so much I was unsure what this one would be like, and if it would feel as special with a bigger crowd…

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Once we were all in, Switchfoot kicked off the soundcheck with Afterlife (Drew – wow!! Such incredible guitar noise!) and then on request played Vice Verses (Jon – wow! But he always sounds sublime singing this one :D)

Then there was a more usual round of ‘Questions, comments and concerns?’: I asked why they often play rare songs at soundcheck even before anyone else has arrived and there is no audience. Jon said ‘Why do you climb a mountain – because it’s there’. I do wish they’d bring more of the back catalogue out in public though, especially if they still enjoy playing these songs.

I had meant to do a funny Meet&Greet photo for Halloween with us all looking scared, but with a lot on my mind I forgot. However Jude did it and she’d had an even better idea, to get Drew to do his scary joker face and have everyone else reacting! It creased me up to see that unreal face in person! 😀 But I did remember to hand over a box of pumpkin cookies from M, fulfilling a long-held ambition (they asked his name, said to say hi and that they’ll look for him in the crowd), and to ask a prayer request on behalf of a member of the ‘fam who had asked.

After a short wait back outside, the doors opened, and that large venue got pretty full, which was great to see. 🙂

Alvarez Kings were really stoked tonight! In the opener they yelled ‘London!’ And they played a great solo too. Simon the lead singer was performing a lot more with his hands, and putting in a lot more expression. He made several funny comments too: ‘I’m out of shape… stages are big!… taught Switchfoot some Yorkshire lingo… dodgy chicken..’ 😀 The drummer had his tongue out a lot! I got some eye contact from the bassist tonight, and was the human mic stand again, again I knew before they even started their set so I think Simon must give out telepathic vibes or something! 😀 The sound was noticeably a lot better tonight and I managed to pick up a lot more of the lyrics; thinking the last thing these guys needed was to be playing to a bunch of disinterested Switchfoot fans on the front row night after night I had made an effort to pick up enough to sing along and engage with the songs right from the start, but I felt like I was really getting to know these songs now.

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Then two more firsts for me; the venue gave out cups of water to us all, and there was a big display screen behind the stage, so we got all Switchfoot’s backing vids tonight (they’d used some in Basel, but they used them all the way through tonight)!

They once more opened with the full electric Hello Hurricane and got the crowd going, singing along and jumping. The crowd’s energy tonight was fantastic where we were!

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During Stars Jon paused, smiling, to survey the crowd in a way I’ve seen many times previously, but hadn’t seen yet this tour. It felt good already. 🙂

Stars led straight into a vid of John M Perkins on the screen, introducing The Sound; it was an INSANE performance!! Woah!! I let go and danced like a crazy thing, it was so much fun to rock out to!

Introducing YLIAS from there, Jon said ‘There’s a theme to tonight’s setlist. I believe in a love that’s louder than hatred, louder than racism, that all our wrong notes in this symphony of life will be made right by the Composer Himself.’

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Then he jumped into the crowd for Bull and LAIWTF, dedicating it to Chad as apparently this is yet another place he used to live! Jon wove his way through the crowd and worked us all from the back as though it were no different from any other venue I’d seen him play; even that large, two-tier crowd seemed just as engaged with his performance. Back up on stage, there were smiles and hugs between the guys and the crew. 🙂

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Beginning IWLYG, there was a funny moment when Drew made an accidental guitar noise somehow. 😀 Jon told us tonight feels ‘like family, church, community…’, and I had to agree.

They played House Burns*, and then at the end of the song Romey disappeared… and reappeared on the drums with Chad! They played The Clash’s London Calling! Jon was all hair, definitely getting into his punk side! 😀

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Dark Horses followed, then… Jon fetched a ukulele that he had been given at Meet&Greet!! :O Jude had requested The Edge Of The Earth a few days ago, and he had given a particular look in response like he was thinking about it… but this..! He said being given the uke he took as a sign since we’re a long way from the islands and it doesn’t happen often; he wanted to play one of his favourite songs that they’ve never played before as they wanted to bring something special out for London… and they actually played it!! I was pretty teary and trembling! That EP is up there with my favourite albums. I know many fans who have seen them many, many times and never heard them play a single song off it, but this is now the third time I’ve seen one of these precious songs performed. It was so special! They started all gathered around the ‘fancy mic’ then returned to their positions for a truly epic ending. Wow. :’)

I filmed it, and you can watch it here; the camera visibly gets the shakes over that ending, and I turned the camera round at one point and captured the pure joy on my face, which is absolutely genuine.

It took a little longer to get there this time, but by the time they were closing out with Where I Belong and Meant To Live the energy was so high I was back near Bristol heights of ecstasy, yelling and shaking and rocking out in absolute bliss… Singing ‘We want more than this world’s got to offer’ when the world can be so very good felt almost greedy. It was a mind bending reminder of God’s goodness, that God does indeed offer much more than even this.

They again played Float as an encore, and despite the prominent ‘No Crowd Surfing’ posters everywhere Jon did indeed Float (over me, I’m pleased to report that I did not drop him!).

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There was an interlude with Jon talking about s’mores whilst introducing Live It Well, and he got his old friend JJ up on stage for a shoutout to thank him for all he’d done to support them right from the start. This I was very happy about, as it was this same JJ who had made Jon’s solo show happen back in June, and that had been extremely important to me, so I appreciated being able to thank him too.

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And then they finished once again with Dare You To Move – but ohhhh it was so nice tonight! Jon got the crowd lighting the stage with their phone lights. It was as pretty in real life as the pictures I’d seen! A magical way to end another stunning show. 🙂

And then what happened?! Everything seemed ripe for a second encore but the crowd stopped! I stayed at the barrier, partly speechless, partly fangirling with other fans, and partly waiting for Josh to throw me back my flag, which this time had ended up backstage. When I eventually got my things together to leave I found one of Drew’s guitar picks underneath.

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Afterwards was funny; I met up with M and our friends and we were hanging out, and refreshing twitter, then suddenly everyone went round the side of the venue to the stage door. We didn’t know why for a while as there had been no tweet, but it turned out it was the venue staff wanting us out the street so we didn’t make a noise. It was funny as all of us were so hyped up that every time anyone went in or out there was a cry of ‘Wooo!!!’ ‘*shhhh!!!*’. And I met more cool SwitchFam! We had to keep letting cars and bikes through the barrier we were standing against, and soon had a sort of human gate system going! 😀

Eventually there was a tweet!! Jon came out a little while after, and wanted to take us somewhere else but the venue staff really wanted us to stay round the side of the venue where we were. So he got up on a wall, and I lost my vantage point 😀 He had just started playing Caroline when the Alvarez Kings’ bus needed to get out and we all had to move once again! 😀 Then no sooner had he started a second time there was a loud siren in the street..! It was fairly silly! But he played, and we sang. There had been a lot of singing from the crowd tonight. He played 24 and Your Love Is Strong, and our friend was pleased he played 24, a favourite of his, at his first aftershow. It was so lovely seeing M and Jon both singing together! 🙂 And then he was gone, and we headed back to get some sleep.

So it seems a large crowd can actually love even louder. That was easily one of the best ever concerts of my life. I had no idea music could feel like this :’)

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*Yes I was finding far too much entertainment in this silly saga but for the sake of completeness, and letting you know what actually goes through my strange mind during concerts… well, Jon did come over to me at the right point in the song tonight, but I wonder if I lost my ‘spark’ since I hadn’t been paying attention the night before when he did it! There was brief eye contact this time but he didn’t sing ‘to me’ 😀

Looking for Europe 6: in London, with Jon Foreman, for the first time

June 1st

Today. Wow.

We checked out of the hostel and pretty much spent the whole day travelling back to London for our emergency appointment with a Jon Foreman solo show! We had planned a morning in Köln and an afternoon in Brussels, but in the end had only about 30 minutes to get a drink in a café in the Brussels train station (featuring a rather awesome statue of a horse dressed as a zebra sat at one of the tables!!) before boarding the Eurostar. Once we got back we had to repack the car since we had an extra person to fit in that evening, and still had to actually properly pack away the tent, which we had hastily shoved wet into the car after BCDO. Miraculously that worked out pretty well!

Then we headed into London, with Jon’s music playing on the stereo. At one point we found ourselves following a white van, which had the words ‘all dead inside’ written on the back in the dirt – which was firstly a really weird thing to see written on the back of a van, and secondly a Jon lyric (I commented that ‘nothing left inside’ would have been more usual if you were going to stick a line of that song on a van…)! Driving in felt like a treasure hunt. London had a magic to it suddenly!

Unfortunately there was a horrible incident involving an unreliable satnav, car parking in London and a panic attack, but once we were all safely parked up and at the show in a little venue opposite Great Portland Street tube station, we met up with more wonderful SwitchFam and the magic returned.

The show was delayed starting because, having sold out despite being announced only two days beforehand, there was apparently a queue right round the block to get in and Jon wanted to get everyone inside before starting. My heart was happy at hearing that! I hope he feels the love, and realises how much he is wanted here. He came out on stage and explained, and then brought out Josh the guitar tech, and said he would guitar tech for him that night instead and let him play us a few songs whilst the venue filled up. Josh was very good, and seemed so happy to be playing in London! It was amazing of him to be doing that on what should have been his day off.

Eventually the show began! To begin we saw tour manager Chico in the crowd handing out paper on which to write our request set list, but the paper never reached us – I think it only got half way round the front few rows! We thought we might miss out on putting requests in but as the show went on we started to write requests on any bit of paper we could find and started passing them forward. Jon was picking up papers by the handful and only choosing one song each time, so we ended up putting our requests in multiple times as we saw ours passed over again and again! There were some funny awkward left/right jokes about which side of the stage was winning on the requests (‘… your left, my right..!’) And he started to have fun with what the requests were written on, reading out the wrong side of the notes (receipts, theatre tickets..!). I was torn between wanting to record the entire show, and just wanting to put the ghost machine away entirely and just fully immerse myself in the moment. After recording a couple of songs, the camera made the decision for me by declaring itself totally full, so I don’t have a lot of pictures or videos.

Jon played:

Caroline

Terminal – watch here

The World You Want

24

The Shadow Proves The Sunshine – watch here

Resurrect Me – ‘Can anyone play the guitar..? No, seriously?’ He pulled a girl up on stage to play whilst he jammed on the harmonica, and she was absolutely brilliant! I loved seeing the two of them jam together! There was a lot going on in him as he sang this one, he showed some real frustration, anger even, on the line ‘but I’m still waking up with myself’, it was intense.

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Live It Well

Wouldn’t It Be Nice – there was a disco ball!! 😀 Jon asked for the lights to be put out so we could just have that! He said it kind of made him think about asking a girl to skate at a roller disco and just how incredibly awkward that is when you’re 15 😀

This Is Home

Just Rob Me – at the request of one of my friends!

In My Arms – this was requested by a couple who had the song at their wedding; when Jon asked who, several of us admitted we’d had it at our weddings! He seemed honoured 🙂

The Blues! Wow! What a powerful song, I don’t think he’s played that in a long time but it was amazing

Only Hope – this he prefaced with a bizarre introduction involving hitchhiking, surfing and tomatoes, which had pretty much nothing to do with the song except ‘… and this song was on our next album.’ 😀 There was also a really funny moment when whistling broke out across the audience, he said there was an incognito whistle chorus group infiltrating the audience but they won’t let on who or where they are! 😀 He couldn’t see who was doing it, it was hilarious 😀 Watch it here and judge for yourself (It’s not my video so it’s infinitely better than any of mine, but it’s such a beautiful thing I had to share! More videos from the night on that channel too, and all brilliantly filmed 🙂 )

Cure For Pain – this was my request! It’s one of my absolute favourites of his, which I’ve never heard live but know that he does play. Plus it felt appropriate. He said as he picked the paper up ‘I’m going to play this one because it says ‘Cure For Pain – please??’ – so polite, so London!’ Score. 😀

House Of God Forever – he got some girls to sing together on the second verse, which was lovely. None of us were brave enough to sing on our own, but they dared to together. And they took a selfie on the stage afterwards, so sweet!

Dare You To Move

Vice Verses – Wowowowow!! This was the most beautiful performance of this I’ve ever seen. He was really feeling it for one thing; as he introduced it he talked about sitting on his rock in the ocean in the night, the place he goes to think and wrestle with the darkness, the only thing that doesn’t change… 😥 But the way he sang it too… My legs disappeared from under me almost completely! I really would have fallen under it except the stage was high and I didn’t want to miss anything, so I leaned onto the edge of the stage and just soaked it in, and the weak knees spread into head to toe happy shivers… wow!

Lean On Me – I got out my thank you banner, the only one I brought with me, and Jon bent down to it and gave me a sweet, emotional smile and put his hands together in a silent ‘thank you!’ 🙂

Your Love Is Strong

Here is a friend’s playlist of almost the whole show, including Josh! You won’t get the full effect of being there, but it is a little taste.

 

So that was my first ever solo show, finally 🙂

I was SO, SO happy!! Wowow*. I really don’t think I was prepared for how wonderful that would be, even after years of listening to Jon’s music, seeing him play with Switchfoot and at aftershows, and watching solo shows online. Nothing prepared me for the first-hand experience of being immersed in that beautiful voice, just minimally accompanied, for a full two hours, and how nice it would be to be a part of Jon’s inclusive, participatory performance style. I was absolutely blown away.

Afterwards me and the other ‘fam just had massive grins on our faces and I was literally bouncing and skipping, I felt like a little kid! I ended up just sat on the kerb outside the venue reliving it all inside, smiling and smiling in a happy dream. All is well. I felt so fully healed from the pain of missing the last show. I got everything I need…

And Jon so completely owns me now as a fan, I am 100% sold out, for life.

Yes.

Great Portland Street is now by far my favourite tube station!

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*I know what you’re thinking, but I’m thinking I haven’t said ‘wow’ as many times as that show warranted 😀

Read Part 5 here

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

Being thankful

We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time this year! This has not been an easy year at all, personally or politically, but aside from liking the tradition and fancying the cooking challenge, I wanted to do this as I felt that actually I still have a huge amount to be thankful for from the past year, and that in a time when circumstances make it harder to see the good things and feel thankful, setting aside a little time to focus on what I am truly thankful for is a good discipline. The more I’ve thought about it, the more good I’ve spotted amongst the mess, and it has left me feeling genuinely grateful for those good things and a lot more positive about the year. So; my list:

  • Time at home. My new year’s resolution this year was straightforward after last year’s wonderful chaos; to do nothing! Well, maybe not ‘nothing’, but no crazy plans, no charging around the country(/world) week after week, and to focus on spending time right here at home, with our local friends and church family, and making progress on our DIY projects. And we’ve done that! It’s been really nice being a little more settled.
  • Living in Devon. Related to the last point – we live in a nice place! It’s been good to spend more time just enjoying where we live. Our main holiday this year was to Lundy Island, an island off the north coast in a protected area, which is therefore jumping with sealife. We saw so many seabirds, seals, jellyfish, rockpoolies and dolphins, and it was beautiful – all almost on our doorstep! And the walks and beach trips we’ve done closer to home have been wonderful too. We made an effort this summer to go down to the coast on nice evenings for barbecues or chips on the beach as the sun goes down. I can’t help but be thankful that my life looks like this after years living and working in and near London, it’s a real blessing.
  • The support for our whitewashing nonviolent direct action last year. I’ve been blown away by the amount of support I and my fellow activists have received since our action last November. A huge crowd of supporters turned out to our trial, some coming a really long way to be there. There were far too many people to fit in the viewing gallery and many stood outside in driving rain for us all day, praying, holding banners and looking after us. I’m so humbled! And on top of that, when we received a (much smaller than expected) fine, friends, family and supporters crowdfunded enough to pay it off in full! We checked the amount that came in a week after the verdict, and it seemed a random amount; but then we totalled up our collective fine and realised it was the same amount to the nearest pound! Shortly after this we closed the crowdfunder early as we had exceeded our target, despite not expecting to meet it, and found the amount raised exactly covered our expenses for the action too! I am profoundly grateful to God for so fully honouring our imperfect willingness to do this, and to our supporters, both for the obvious practical help this was, but also for the solidarity of knowing we had so many people standing beside us and willing to also pay the price of speaking out on climate change.
  • Good news on climate change. Aside from the ratification of the Paris climate agreement, it seems politically that this has been a bad year for climate, as in practice the political world has barely moved into action at all, and in many cases we’re still seeing the politics moving backwards. However; more and more this year I’ve seen signs of change, almost in spite of the politics of it all. The economics are starting to shift. As renewables grow, in spite of policies that hamper them, and the combined pressure from increasingly cheap renewable energy, financial disinvestment, uncertainty over the future under international climate agreements and the cost of carbon hits the fossil fuel industries, a real practical shift away from fossil fuels has begun. We have a long way to go, and fast, but this is genuinely encouraging. We need to keep up the momentum on fossil fuel disinvestment, which is really a win-win situation, whilst at the same time urging our governments to think progressively and practically get behind this shift, which would really speed the process up.
  • Vegan abundance! Going vegan ten years ago was relatively straightforward, with plenty of choices available in ordinary shops, and at least something you could eat in most restaurants when out. But there has been such a fast shift over the last year or so! Several vegan/explicitly vegan-friendly businesses have popped up all over town, raised consciousness means I’m finding it more common for non-veggie friends to know how to make really nice things for us, little innovations the world seems to have just discovered (coconut cream makes wonderful whipped cream, chickpea water works like egg whites…) mean vegan baking has suddenly become even easier and cafes are cottoning on, and even some vegan cheese seems to be finally starting to resemble the real thing! I’m suddenly beginning to realise how much self-control I’ve lost over the years, now that what was a ‘special diet’ is becoming so mainstream; I’ve been used to luxuries being just that, and therefore jumping at the chance to indulge when the chance arose from time to time, but suddenly it seems there are easy luxuries everywhere and I have to be restrained for the sake of wallet and waistline! But at the same time, what a nice problem to have – such great news for me, and for animals and the environment 🙂
  • The mental health services. Wow am I thankful for the help that I’ve found available to me this year as I’ve found myself battling depression! I’ve heard the horror stories and know not everyone gets the help they need when they need it, even when they do seek it, but my experience has been good so I know that’s only one side of the picture. I’d love to see the day when mental health is taken as seriously as physical health, because it is, and everyone can find help. But I’m very thankful that I have a good GP, have been able to take part in a well-taught CBT course for free, and have had help from my church towards paying to see a counsellor. Each of these things have been a God-send in an unpleasant situation, and I am so thankful.
  • Supportive family and friends. And again on a related note, I am deeply thankful for the community of people I have in my life who have treated my illness as an illness, been understanding as they can be, and been there to encourage me and share advice. I feel honoured to be able to reciprocate that to others too, and am grateful to have that chance through this circumstance. It’s brought me closer to myself, to others, and to God.
  • The RSPB. Last year I was volunteering for several different charities, often on my own and with irregular hours. This year I decided to change and focus on my work with the RSPB nature conservation charity, filling my newly-free days in the week by taking on some scientific support work in their local office, which means I’m now working with others and with pretty regular office hours, and getting to use my science brain a bit. Simplifying my work this year has itself done me a lot of good; but so has the RSPB directly. Conservation is not always the most encouraging world to work in, with so many species and habitats under threat. But working with the RSPB, I see an amazing array of good news stories as hard work saving nature really does pay off. Both internally and externslly there’s a real emphasis on hope and encouragement around this. The project I’ve worked most with this year has just celebrated a milestone as a little bird we almost lost from the country has been brought back from the brink and is increasing (you can read more about that here, it’s a nice reminder that good news is out there!). But even in addition to this, the organisation takes staff wellbeing seriously (as a volunteeer I am still considered part of the staff team) and has done a lot of work to raise the profile of wellbeing and mental health and promote activities and support that can help. I’m not sure I could be working in a better environment right now!
  • Being able to ‘do autumn properly’. It’s no secret that I love autumn! I felt like I missed out on it a bit last year in my busyness, so this year I made an effort to give time to enjoying it as much as possible. So we went on holiday in the Lake District, swam and bodyboarded in the sea, went for walks in the local arboretum and elsewhere, picked up colourful leaves, made some of them into pretty decorations or collages, went birdwatching plenty to catch the migration in progress, baked for halloween and used it to pray over the world’s darkness, went to the legendary Nottingham Goose Fair (enormous cheesy funfair, and something I haven’t done since leaving home), went to an apple day and made apple fritters to celebrate, had a Thanksgiving party and a Harvest ploughman’s meal, went to a fireworks display, and planted trees in the garden. I don’t think I’ve missed anything this year, and although it’s been unusually warm and dry and the trees gave us a bit of a stop-start display this year it’s been wonderful – and I have far too many photos! 😀
  • Switchfoot. I confess, when I drafted this list, this was the first thing I wrote! A lot of bad things have happened in the world this year. But 2016 was also the year Switchfoot brought us their 10th album, Where The Light Shines Through. And in a dark year, it really has been where the light has shone through for me, not just a highlight of the year for a fan, but also an incredibly timely album full of messages of hope and strength and light, so much needed just now. This band has done more than anyone else this year to encourage me to look for the points of light breaking through the darkness, keep my eyes on the Source of my hope, and work to become where the light shines through myself.

2015 – An intense year

DSCN73852015 was a crazy year for me; I’ve never known a year so packed or so intense in my life! There’s been some bad-intense moments, but overwhelmingly more good-intense experiences. I’m left feeling pretty humbled by it all.

Life in general

It began particularly intense for my husband; 3 major deadlines in the first 3 weeks of the year (requiring a lot of all-nighters to finish it all), and culminating in a two week trip away from home to the USA for a conference and visit to his relatives, and a first experience of properly cold temperatures and American snow. And so the year continued from there!

We’ve been away a lot; my work has taken me away from home more than ever before, with 10 trips to London alone for meetings and climate rallies, plus visits to Bradford and Sheffield to lead workshops, a training weekend in Derbyshire, and several festivals. We went to three weddings, and our band managed to meet up eight times for performances and recording sessions, we attended a very geeky reunion weekend for our old university, and visited family in different parts of the country a few times too, during which we were introduced to three new ‘fur baby’ relatives.

And then there were the two holidays of a lifetime; the second, a trip to the incredibly beautiful Isles of Scilly with my family, and the first, following Switchfoot’s European tour and taking time during our travels to visit friends and family in London, Edinburgh, and Freiburg as well as some quality time exploring European cities together. Both adventures have left us with the most precious memories of happy times together. And we’ve seen some incredible wildlife too; cranes, storks, black woodpeckers, sunfish, dolphins, starfish, sea urchins, sea anemones, seals… amazing.

We’ve had a lot of visitors when we have been home; now we live in a nice part of the country a lot more of our friends and family have been keen to visit, and we’ve been busy giving tours of the local sights. There have been a fair few daytrips just as a household too, including some long cycle rides, hikes on the moors, a fossil hunting expedition (in which M actually found a dinosaur bone), a pirate festival, and trips to the beach. I’ve done a lot more sea swimming than usual; it usually takes a lot to get me in the sea but one day in the autumn the sea was so lovely I spent over an hour swimming!

The little time we have had at home, to ourselves, we’ve spent trying to redecorate our whole house, which has obviously not got all that far given how little time we’ve been able to give to the DIY project! But we’ve learnt to put up wallpaper, and crammed in time for a little housewarming party too once we got the worst of the DIY out the way.

So that’s what my life was like on the whole last year; this is how things panned out with my faith, politics, poetry and fandom:

Faith

Two recurring themes of this year in my relationship with God have been grace, and death as part of the resurrection process. This was a really significant year for me as it was the year I could finally celebrate having been ‘alive for half my life’. I’d been thinking about it a lot as the anniversary approached, and these lessons God has been teaching me seemed really fitting; a time to refocus on all I have been given, both in having my life saved in the first place, half my life ago, and all that I have been given since, and then to question what happens next in this process of being reborn, recreated and resurrected.

Grace has impacted me in so many ways in the past year, and I’ve encountered it from so many people as well as supremely from Godself. I’ve posted here already about the profound grace experience I encountered through my meetings with Jon Foreman whilst following Switchfoot on tour last spring, and also about a very different grace experience, which came about as the result of what felt, to me at least, a real epic fail, but which opened me up to a fresh sense of God’s love for me and my absolute dependence on that Love for strength, goodness and second chances. But I’ve also experienced a huge amount of grace from others through my failures, struggles with health and work, and my political activity; my husband has met all of this with forgiveness, love, patience and humour, and my friends, family and colleagues have been so amazingly supportive, offering prayer, sympathy and practical support over and over again, regardless of whether or not they’ve agreed with me. I feel deeply humbled by it all.

The intimate connection between death and resurrection has been on my mind a lot over the year. It began, logically enough, at Easter, as I remembered again how in Christ death itself died to bring life to us all through the resurrection. But I am a Jon Foreman fan; this past year he has seeded my thought life with so many new songs exploring life, death and resurrection, as well as the older songs that had accompanied my musings over Easter. As I spent the year looking back to the day one version of myself died and a new me came alive, and forward to the future, a day-to-day process of learning to die little by little to myself and live more fully the life I was made for to play my part in bringing in the Kingdom of God, it has been extremely powerful to share the journey with these songs. There have been some beautiful contemplative moments, experiencing God close by in still moments in festivals and out in nature. And I’ve seen more answers to prayers, big and small, than I can possibly count, everything from miraculous healings of people we’ve prayed for at church to good weather when I’ve needed it for travels and work. God is good.

Politics

Politically, this past year has been a battle, and it has taken me beyond what I’ve been able to handle – which in itself has meant depending more and more on grace, and sacrificing a little more of myself to allow more life in, but it has also stretched me to breaking point. I spend a lot of time campaigning for social justice and environmental protection, both with two of my ‘jobs’, and in my personal life, but this year has been very tough, with the election, the Paris climate summit, and the fall-out of both to deal with. It has felt like we’ve had to push extremely hard just to hold our ground, and at times it’s felt like things are heading in a backwards direction instead as poverty, inequality and xenophobia have risen, and climate change and nature protection measures have been in most cases cut, just when we need to be becoming more internationally cooperative, working more actively for peace, and pushing hard for real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and a halt to species losses. So we’ve been working hard. And unfortunately I’ve felt extremely isolated in it all, working alone from home most of the time, and not having a good network of activist friends living nearby to rely on for help and solidarity.

For the positives – I’ve had a few different chances to speak and lead workshops this past year, including taking part in my first panel event on faith and the environment, I went on my first ever pride march, had wonderful encouraging visits to other activist groups, particularly with SPEAK, which reminded me I’m not alone and that good things are happening, and went to some really inspiring events, including Friends of the Earth’s Basecamp training weekend/ minifestival. And since it has been so hard to move things in conventional ways, I’ve turned to non-violent direct action; firstly supporting a fairly low-key prayer rally and banner drop in the Church of England synod meeting calling on the Church to disinvest from fossil fuels for the sake of those we should be showing love towards, and secondly, whitewashing and ‘rebranding’ the Department for Energy and Climate Change to expose the deadly policy changes taking place behind all the government’s talk on climate. And both went about as well as we could have hoped, and have received a lot of support. I just hope they lead to meaningful change…

Poetry

I haven’t written a lot of poetry this past year; however, I have managed to write, and actually finish, four songs, which is pretty amazing for me. It was mainly a year for the music; my band worked hard to release a new Christmas album at the end of the year, so we had a lot of band meetups and recording sessions to get it done. We also performed at two small festivals and two weddings, which was nice. In the process I have begun to learn to sing out loud, performing with a microphone, singing a duet with M, and finally recording a lead vocal! And improbably, despite our disorganisation, we did get the album out on time, and it’s quite fun!

Fandom

Wow this really has been a year of change in my life as a music fan. Although I’d largely given in to the inevitability of becoming a megafan years back, even up to the end of 2014 I was still fighting myself over it to some extent, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t an integral part of me. After spending some time fasting from all things Jon Foreman at the end of the year, it became clear to me that trying to detach myself too far from my fandom was actually unhealthy, and that I was fighting against my own self. I decided that whilst an occasional short ‘fast’ could be a good thing to stop me becoming too obsessed or unhealthily dependent, on the whole it was far better for me to give in to it completely, stop fighting myself and just become all that it can make me. And it has been an incredible ride!

As well as finding out just how much I can be changed for the better through it, I’ve also been learning what it is to really be a fan; that an artist-fan relationship is not the one-way, purely commercial process that I had previously thought it to be, but that it truly is a two-way relationship, that artists need our support in so many ways, including hearing from us personally.

So. I joined a couple of online fan forums to meet fellow fans. I took the chance to follow Switchfoot on tour around Europe back in the spring. I got tickets for five shows, plus all the buses, trains and hostels that involved to make it all possible. And I made some fan art to take along to show the band, a t-shirt and four banners, plus a couple of letters. And it worked out so incredibly, beautifully well! I made some great new friends, had some wonderful times with M and friends, and finally felt I’d made the connection with Jon and the rest of the band that I’d missed making all these years. I’m still even now getting the happiest flashbacks to it all that make my heart skip a beat or two, it’s hard to get my head around. It even spilled over a little to my relationships with other artists; if I’d been a bad fan to Switchfoot in the past I’d been a worse fan to band #2, Delirious. But last year I also finally got a message of appreciation through to the band’s Stu and Stew too, which helped heal some of those old regrets too.

And the intensity of the last year of fandom did not end when I returned home from that tour either; all last year Jon Foreman was releasing a series of EPs collectively called The Wonderlands (and ended the year by giving us a new Switchfoot song, New Year’s Day) – new music that has had, and continues to have, a lifechanging impact. For someone like me, this is more than ‘just music’; a major release like this becomes a significant life event, new songs become friends, lovers, mentors to me, guiding my walk with God and shaping who I am. I won’t go into details on individual songs here, I’ll leave that for a future post, but these songs truly make me who I am.

I was obviously a huge fan already, but by the end of the year my fan-love really was off the scale; he topped everything by celebrating the final release of The Wonderlands by performing 25 shows in 24 hours in a whole series of different weird and wonderful locations around San Diego, featuring each of the 25 songs from the project played at its appropriate hour, and all done to raise money for local disadvantaged kids. I couldn’t be there in person, but I was more than there in spirit; I stayed up the entire 24 hours, watching social media and periscope to catch as much of the event as I could and sending supportive messages and chatting to fellow fans watching from home too. Oh my heart! I don’t think I can exaggerate how beautiful the whole thing was! I’m not sure what I expected but Jon earnt my admiration hundreds of times over that day, not only keeping going but getting better as it went on, showing a lot of kindness to the fans and fellow musicians there, and having a lot of fun with it all too. There were some absolutely classic moments. It has been filmed, and trust me, if the film gets released you really do want to see it! For now, I collected a playlist of as many fan videos as I’ve been able to find.

Wow wow. Where does it go from here?!

 


 

2015 was also the year I:

  • Got a smart phone
  • Got locked out of facebook over changing my name
  • Discovered I like hazelnut lattes
  • Watched a solar eclipse
  • Tried again to join a samba band…
  • Found out how to chop down the tallest tree in the forest with a herring
  • Had my first eye test for 10 years, and found I have the beginnings of long sight
  • Became a music reviewer
  • Got my first henna tattoos
  • Discovered cheesy chart music
  • Enjoyed a stunningly beautiful autumn
  • Saw my work colleagues in a panto
  • Quit 2 jobs
  • Had a deep conversation with a random guy on a megabus journey
  • Gatecrashed a thanksgiving party

It’s been fun! 😀

Surprisingly profound fridge poetry

I played one of those ‘what words did you use most on facebook this year’ games yesterday, and the resulting word cloud inspired a sort of ‘fridge poetry’ session, messing around with the words it gave me. Here’s the poem the came out of it…


 

 

Looking like I’m just blood

Looking like I still need life

Playing God feels weird

Faith without music never lasts

Yet no music without faith

Yes I’ve still got first love

Two names make home, where I’ll forever belong; husband and Jesus; happy things

Though I’m still feeling at sea in this strange world

I believe autumn leaves make something good, even something really beautiful, out of death

Maybe it’s an amazing place of change

I’m sometimes wondering if I’m leaves before God

Can’t go back.

I sense this big world needs peace, people still need to find life

Someone writing songs, find the words

In the sound tomorrow gets wonderful in the end, forever, finally

Maybe whole, wonderful peace is actually found around others

Inseparable but still looking for love

Make the sort of place we can talk

Help people think of good

Change arms for icecream, climate change for cats

Work till we’re feeling totally alive

A little reserve to make home for others

Make the new morning’s news amazing

Keep a sense of now

Believe something incredible

Keep hoping

Time to live this new day like a song