Last Post

After I write this the comments will be closed and the password changed by Karl so I don’t know what it is. This is my last post on this blog.

Most of those I know read it are also FB friends and I look forward to keeping in touch with you via that method.

A confession and an explanation (and possibly a salutary warning to others)

This week a community I used to be part of were scared and hurting, I tweeted the news story it related to and said a silent prayer but I didn’t get in touch with the people there….I didn’t even repost the news story on here. Instead I blogged about….well see the last few posts.

I sent an email to someone with some links to the blog in on Thursday but not an email to my hurting friends.

Over the years blogging has become a bit of an addiction for me. It has also become a major tool of procrastination. It has gotten in the way of me maintaining and deepening existing friendships.

Something good and useful in its own right which has had benefits has become something which has to some extent come to control me rather than the other way round. As I go to a gallery I make notes to blog later, as I watch a film or read a news story it becomes potential blog material.

I have enjoyed being part of this community and will still read others – something I also confess I haven’t done enough of. I’ve found time to write about me more than I have read about others.

I am in another time of endings and new beginnings. It is time for this blog to end.

Thank you for reading and being part of this bit of the journey with me.

Sally

Engaging with the Headline Data

Today the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a news release showing that the proportion of single parents in England and Wales had tripled over 40 years, as well as giving other headline demographic change data. The numbers the news release was talking about had come from the 2011 National Lifestyle survey overview report which has been published by the ONS. I am going to unpack the statistics and question why the headline was chosen before moving on to look at what challenges that headline data poses for those of us who are Christians within congregations.

What the news release suggests is that the proportion of single parents in this country has steadily risen over that time. This is not the case though, if one turns to the data which the release is based upon there is a slightly different story to be shown. The greatest rise in single parents was actually over the first 25 years of this comparison period, in 1971 the proportion of single parents was 8 percent and in 1998 it had risen to 25%. The proportion of lone parent families hit its peak in 2002 – when the figure rose to 27%. Since the early naughties figures have levelled off and the proportion of lone parents has actually fallen slightly to 22%, the lowest figure since 1995. The proportion of lone mothers has been stable at 20% since 2008, a fall of 4% from 2005 when they peaked at 24% same level as 2002.

The statistics then tell us that there has been a levelling off and a stabilisation in family life over the last 10 years. Over the last decade we have not seen significantly more single mothers who have never been part of a two parent household, neither have we seen a huge increase in divorce and separation leading to single parents. Those significant changes in the shape of family life happened around the turn of the century rather than over the last ten years.

So why is it that this has been chosen as the headline for this news release?

It could be because it is amongst the most significant of the figures for change when doing a forty year comparison. If this is the case I can see the rational but would argue it then unintentionally gives a false impression of how that rise has been achieved over the forty years. It was headline news when doing twenty or thirty year comparisons but should now probably not be the key headline data.

The second possible explanation is more disturbing and relates to the way in which myths grow up around welfare spending. The Joint Public Issues Team report ‘Truth and Lies about Poverty’ talks about the myth making which has occurred around issues of poverty.

A recent Gingerbread report highlighted that amongst the many who are going to be the forthcoming changes to the benefits and welfare system single parents are particularly likely to be hit. They said, in their press briefing, Single Parents and Universal Credit, Singled Out, “Single parent families are already almost twice as likely to live in poverty. A lack of flexible working and affordable childcare means many are struggling to find stable work that pays. The charities are concerned the changes to welfare support will only make these barriers harder to overcome.”

We do need to be careful before drawing the most negative conclusions as the evidence is not clear as to why this headline was used.

The key point I want to make in relation to the headline is when looking at the reporting which might follow based upon this release we need to keep a focus on the facts rather than the possible inference.

Looking at the statistics and news release from a different angle I want us to think about what questions they ask of those of us who are Christians interested in ecclesiology and missiology. The basis for this interpretation will come from my research into the experience of single parents in evangelical churches.

Before launching in I want to give a health warning. We have to be careful of the data used in relation to the number of single parents in our churches – because they are a category which we don’t have clear information on. However, from the data which has been available and from anecdotal evidence it is widely acknowledged that single parents are an under-represented group within white majority churches particularly.

 1: What era is our church culture rooted in?

Is it the culture of the 21st century where family shapes have now stabilised to include lone parent as a “norm” and where statistics for never married, divorced and separated single parents have stabilised to their current level?

In looking to answer the key question and the sub-questions which follow on from it we need to think about a range of factors many of which go beyond being focused exclusively around single parents.

We need to think about our attitudes to women working and when meetings and events are scheduled for. We need to think about attitudes towards divorce, separation and those who have had sex outside of marriage.

2. What spaces do we provide for people to reflect upon and discuss their experiences of contemporary life?

My research showed that whilst the diversity of contemporary household shape is evident in our congregations, and in the relationships of those close to us it is rarely mentioned in public worship. However, small groups can be a place where that reflection and discussion can occur. Where a holistic approach is taken which sees the potential for transformation in the whole person small groups can be very important spaces.

If small groups take a wider focus than being bible studies primarily based on achieving ‘conversion’ and increasing theological literacy then they can provide the opportunity for people to explore their experience. They can work through the reality of what it means to be a single parent, (for example), today and how they can contribute to the wider body of the church. If this model is used small groups can also become important spaces for sharing potential opportunities as well as needs. The passing on of job opportunities, for example, can happen if people are able to share in this way.

3. Have our congregations gone through a process of transformation and change?

If the congregation itself has gone through a process of transformation and change it is more likely, I would argue, to have questioned some of its traditional understandings and to be able deal with some of the feelings of dissonance which may arise between the model of family they feel that they should be advocating and the reality which they are called to engage with.

4a. Are our congregations focused on friendship evangelism courses or wider engagement in the local community?

If congregations are under-represented by single parents and have a culture where evangelism is done through like seeking to attract like (through existing networks of friends and contacts) it is less likely to be engaging with the changed shape of society this report has highlighted. The type of ‘targeted’ evangelism which Rick Warren and others have sometimes advocated has tended not to look to single parents as a group to attract.

However, if congregations are engaging with the wider society and community around them then it is going to involve more contact with the contemporary shapes of family and household.

4b.Do we see church as something we just do on a Sunday or as something wider which includes a range of activities during the week?

This contact with the wider community I referred to in 4a will not necessarily be on a Sunday morning and I would be very interested to find out the figures for single parent family participation in messy church activities if they are know. I suspect they may be disproportionately higher than other forms of church.

5. How do we choose our bible readings? Do we include stories such as that of Hagar and Ishmael?

There are bible passages which are highly relevant to our changed society, but they are not included in the lectionary and don’t come from the letters of Paul. For many churches engaging with the relevant biblical material will mean moving away from the passages normally used.

6. Do we have leaders (lay or ordained) with experience of or a good understanding of single parent issues?

If a church/ congregational leader is a single parent or has a close relationship with somebody who is or has been a single parent they will have a greater understanding and empathy. If not they may be holding on to inaccurate stereotypes based upon perception rather than reality. In the latter situation we need to question where their views of single parents are coming from.

Issues around leadership and gender can play a part here. If lay leaders (such as deacons and elders are able to be female there is a higher likelihood these bodies will include somebody who is or has been a single parent with full time care of their child). Similarly, if leaders who have been divorced are accepted then there is obviously going to be a greater probability that they will have an experience of single parenthood.

These six questions are ones which relate to a much wider debate and set of issues but I think are important to be engaged with, particularly in light of the statistics and headline comparative data.

Learning from Cromwell and Co.

Today I went wandering around the current exhibition in Milton Keynes Central Library, Newport Pagnell – Cromwell’s Garrison Town. It was an interesting exhibition which was very old skool in terms of how it was presented and to be honest could have been a bit dull if it hadn’t pressed some particular interest buttons for me.

The exhibition primarily focuses on the history of Newport Pagnell and role it played in the English Civil War(s), but it also touches upon the history of Stony Stratford too. Pictures of Sealed Knot visits to both are included amongst the exhibits. The exhibition illustrates how these two small towns, which are now viewed by some – but not the locals – as being part of Milton Keynes were on opposing sides during the civil war. Stony was held by the Royalists and for most of the time Newport Pagnell was held by the Parliamentarians. Thus, as the exhibition makes clear this area was the front line between Oxford and East Anglia.

I found this borderland idea interesting as it is something which continues into the modern day. MK is hard to categorise in terms of where it lies regionally. We are on the edge of several regions and our life here reflects that. TV wise I get Look East, police coverage is provided by the Thames Valley Force, the main ”local” railway company is London Midland.

There was some important non-conformist dissenter history within the exhibition, aswell as literary treasures. There was a chunk of wood which was part of a pulpit Bunyan had preached from and some documentation relating to Rev. John Gibbs who was one of the 17th century dissenters who left the CofE and formed an independent church which is now the URC. This history page on the Newport Pagnell Baptist Church site outlines the way in which other local dissenting congregations can be seen to trace their heritage back to Gibbs and within the exhibition is an article from the Baptist Quarterly dating back to the 1920′s.

I find the whole subject of non-conformist history absolutely fascinating and important, it is an important part of my religious heritage.

In terms of how radical political non-conformity and dissent has always been viewed as dangerous one line in a time line in the exhibition is very telling. In 1649 Levellers were chased through Newport Pagnell and their leaders shot.

One thing I am very aware of is that it is easy to romanticise the situation of the time, particularly as non-conformists who still have that Puritan DNA in us. That would be a mistake, but I do worry that this exhibition focused too much on bland information without going into much depth about what the reality would have been. For example when it says volunteers to go to Ireland were told they weren’t needed – such as simple sentence, but so much more than is immediately obvious is held within it.

As I say an interesting exhibition if you are in to that sort of thing, but possibly not if you’re not a social history/ non-conformity buff. I know space was obviously an issue for this exhibition and I would have liked to see it presented in a larger space. I think that would have made a difference.

Seeing the fingerprint of God “of the City”

This morning I got a phone call from Karl telling me that Zest, the company with whom we’ve booked Bletchley Park as the venue for our civil partnership blessing/ wedding, (delete according to language you prefer), have gone into administration. Seeing as we had not got around to getting wedding insurance sorted and the transaction was too long ago to be recovered under the consumer credit act we appear to have lost our deposit. In terms of the venue booking we are waiting on Bletchley Park getting back to us again to let us know what’s happening – it appears they were taken as much by surprise as we were when Zest went into administration. It has to be said they were very good at responding to our initial enquiry, even if it was to tell us they didn’t have a definitive answer to give yet.

So that was the beginning of the day – and I have to admit I did find myself getting somewhat caught up in my own negativity. However, as I ventured outside for a meeting things began to change. It appeared spring had properly sprung today.

Wandering along the Redways to the town centre I was struck by the beauty and vibrancy of the colours in the nature around me. After the meeting and a quick trip to Sainsbury’s I happened to venture into the cafe in the University Centre for a quick drink. Not a coffee shop I’d actually been in before and more importantly not a gallery I’d properly explored before. I found myself accidentally encountering the most wonderful exhibition.

Of the City, (which I can’t find any links to online), is the current exhibition at UCMK Galleries. It runs until 22nd March and contains a mixed media exhibition with Painting by Andrew Brown, Printmaking by Jason Duggan and Photography by Mat Cross.

The guide to the exhibition describes it as an exhibition in which these three artists from Milton Keynes explore their responses to the urban landscape.

The paintings of Andrew Brown are described by him as ones which “usually begin with a representational approach, but evolve to take on a more poetic or expressive feel.” What was so striking about Brown’s paintings was the vibrancy and contrast of colour within them and the way in which they were able, according to the subject, able to evoke either traffic speeding around the city or slowly making its way along.

My favourite works in this part of the exhibition were Embankment Night which invited me into itself, asking me to go on a journey of urban discovery and London Night. The latter made me feel as though I was walking along one of the main streets in the capital seeing the bus before me, quite amazing.

What I think would work really well with an exhibition of just Brown’s work would be a punk and post-punk soundtrack of works by groups such as The Clash, Blondie, Ramones and The Strokes. New York Lights for example set The Strokes New York City Cops playing in my head.

The photographs of Mat Cross were able to do that thing I really admire in some modern photography of taking the modern, mundane and sometimes apparently ugly and turn it into something of beauty. Say Cheese which had one photo showing a phone box with flowers in the foreground and another with a man wandering through a puddle and Window Dressing which contained a fence with graffiti on it were two examples.

The printmaking of Jason Duggan was something which fascinated me. He used two main techniques dry point and wood relief. The results were incredibly different but equally beautiful. There was one Dry point which particularly grabbed my attention and that was Parisian Waiter. This exquisite print had eyes which followed you around the room and seemed to be wanting to grab you for an intellectual conversation where this man would expound upon art or music.

The wood relief prints which included Stolen Glance, Parisian Lamplight, Parisian Girls, Message and Moulin Rouge all had a contemporary post-punk feel to them and were incredibly vibrant. They again got a sound track playing in my mind but this one was more contemporary, it was the sounds of Razorlight, the Wombats and The Futureheads my mind responded to these pictures with.

As you can tell these pictures definitely grabbed a response for me and I really loved this exhibition. It was sheer joy and whilst the space isn’t anywhere as near as vast as the Tate Modern I found the art engaging with my spirituality on some level. Wandering home in the sunshine seeing the vibrant colours within nature and reflecting on the exhibition I had just wandered around as well as the new life bursting out of the branches and bushes around me I was struck by something wonderful. Within the beauty I’d encountered in town, in the art and nature, (and within one of those people you meet and just know is a person of peace), I had, on a bit of a shit day, been able to get a glimpse of the fingerprint of God within the soul of MK. That glimpse had been significantly strong to enable me to transcend my earlier feelings.

Faithful Voices Speaking Out

I have alot of time for the Joint Public Issues Team and the information they publish is generally very good. This group which is comprised of representatives from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church, URC and in this case the Church of Scotland have produced an excellent report looking at the truth and lies about poverty in Britain.

The full title of the report is “The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty”. It begins with a quote from John Wesley given in 1753 but incredibly relevant for today, “So wickedly devilishly false is that common objection, ‘They are poor only because they are idle’. The authors of the report make the point that the myth that poverty is caused primarily by idleness is something many inside and outside of our churches still believe.

Now before I go any further I know that there are some people who do fit the myths and stereotypes but these are a very small minority of all cases. Most of us would accept that the person who said during a call in on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio Two yesterday that he hated gay people and was a Christian – seemingly linking the two was not representative of most Christians. So the tiny number of those who fit the stereotype are no more representative of the poor.

A danger of believing the myths which the report highlights is the way in which they are used to form and push forward dangerous social policy without all the consequences of such policies being fully examined.

The report does not and cannot go through every argument but chooses some main ones to focus upon.

In regards to the myth that ‘They’ are lazy and don’t want to work it makes the point that there is no evidence for there being families where three generations have never worked. Reading this I was reminded of a passage in Mike and Trevor Phillips book Windrush about how the myths around black people were spread by the Enoch Powell and others in Wolverhampton and elsewhere. One was based on a letter which Powell eventually admited to a friend, who was black, there was no evidence to support.

The second myth they look at refers to the idea that many benefit claimants are addicts of one kind of another. Looking at the figures, without getting into the deeper debate around this, it makes the point that fewer than 4% of all claimants have reported an addiction of any kind.

With regards to the comments about it being poor money management the report shows that statistics show “the poorest spend their money carefully limiting their spending to essentials”.

In terms of the myths relating to benefit fraud the report states that “less than 0.9% of the welfare budget is lost through fraud. It goes on “if everybody claimed, and was paid correctly, the welfare system would cost around £18 billion more.”

The next myth which they deal with is the one which claims those on welfare have an easy life and it is a lifestyle choice. The evidence shows that in relation to average incomes  benefits have halved over the last 30 years and that this is not a lifestyle choice for most.

In regards to it being the poor and the welfare bill which caused the deficit “the proportion of our tax bill spent on welfare has remained stable for the last 20 years.”

The report seeks to challenge these myths through case studies and analysis of data and statistics.

Sunday Evening Reflection

This was the reflection I wrote for the service I took yesterday evening. Where appropriate I’ve linked to some stuff which might help readers, particularly any international readers understand some specific content, and I’ve also put some additional links at the end which fit in to the basic theme.

Readings: Psalm 12 & John 1:35-51

If the writer of Psalm 12 had been living in the UK and writing today he would have been likely to express many of the same feelings as he did then. Whilst being put somewhat more poetically than I’m about to he might have been saying the following sorts of thing:

It’s not like it used to be, hardly anybody goes to church anymore.

If it carries on like this they’ll be no Christians , we’ll have died out.

If you look at people these days it’s awful, you can’t trust anybody .

I just wish God would come and deal with the whole lot of them, shut them up once and for all because they think they can say what they like without caring about the impact of their words.

Because the poor are being exploited and those in need have to go to the Foodbank when they should have enough to eat I will rise up says the Lord.

I will provide them with the safe spaces where they can go without fear of abuse and getting into more poverty, the spaces that they long for.

The promises which come from God say what they mean.

The promises of God are ones which are precious and  have been thought through and tested out time after time.

You O Lord will protect us and guard us from the fundamentalist secularists, the people seeking to rip us off and those who want to abuse us because we happen to be poor for ever.

Wherever we turn there is wickedness, as materialism, deceit and things like that are put first.

Some bits of Psalm 12 are easy to for us to identify with but if we’re honest some bits are probably a bit harder. Often we can see the awful stuff going on around us and can grumble away about anything and everything. But as for seeing how God’s precious promises are true, those promises the Psalmist tells us were “silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times”, that’s a bit harder.

We look at our churches and we see that both Christian belief and church membership are going down. We look at the financial situation in the churches nationally and locally and see that things are not what they once were and that it does seem like nobody cares anymore.

We open our newspapers and turn on our tv sets and see our politicians lying to us and to each other. We get to the point where we don’t know who to trust anymore.

Those things are easy to identify with.

But what of the promises towards the poor? How do they work? And how can a God of love take vengeance on others?

These are big questions and I can’t even begin to answer them properly this evening. In fact I think with the complexity of the world we’ve seen through history they are questions which we have to hold in tension realising there is much about God and our faith we won’t ever understand but essentially God is a God of love and that was demonstrated through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I don’t know if you saw the tv movie Mary and Martha on BBC One on Friday evening. It told the story of two mothers, one English and one American whose children died of Malaria whilst out in Africa. They meet in their grief and share their stories.

Whilst visiting the orphanage where Martha’s son had worked they see a young boy rushed into hospital with Malaria. Mary notes how the hospital this boy is taken to is so different to the westernised one which she was able to take her son to.

The two women identify the scale of deaths from Malaria and that it is a preventable disease. However, each year vast numbers of children in the poor areas of the world still die.

This prompts me to ask If God’s promises are true where is he? Why are these children still dying? These questions are ones which I think we can answer a little this evening.

In the film Mary and Martha go before a senate committee looking at the subject of Malaria and the aid budget..

The chair of the committee gives a Tony Blair quote making the point that the cake is only so big and hard decisions have to be made when dividing it.

In reply Mary makes the point that more is spent on baldness in the US than on tackling Malaria.

The debate which follows makes the point that the statistics are actually people, Martha produces a huge array of photographs of children who have died from Malaria.

The film ends with Martha, Mary and her husband delivering mosquito nets and medicine donated by people who have seen their senate appearance on the news.

In this situation the Lord can be seen to have risen up and challenged the voices of the double hearted politicians through these two housewives who have gone through such tragedy.

So God’s way of rising up through history has tended to be by taking ordinary people and using them to do extraordinary things. By using them to challenge the lies and double speak rather than giving in to resigned cynicism. By using them to ensure that there are initiatives like Foodbank which are providing for the poorest.

He also sees the big picture, and the global picture. We may see the church as a dying institution because we are living in a time of secularisation but worldwide the church is growing. In Africa and China we have seen a huge growth in faith.

So perhaps we need to start believing as various groups have said over time that another world is possible. A world where we can start to get a glimpse of the bigger picture and the power that ordinary people can have, particularly when they are ready to connect with Christ and his teachings.

I don’t know if any of you have read the story of Steve Jobs one of the co-founders and former CEO of the Apple Corporation and the man behind the Apple Mac and i-pod or read Robin Sharma’s book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari? In both books there is a story of a highly gifted man who goes searching for enlightenment  by travelling to Asia.  This going travelling as part of a spiritual search is something we have become increasingly familiar with since the 1960′s.

Others don’t go travelling but are engaged in a search for spiritual fulfilment. If any of you have been to Glastonbury for example you will know there is quite an industry grown up around this.

But is this searching around for the person or people with the answers really so new?

In the first century there were a range of spiritual and philosophical paths on offer in one form another. If any of you have seen Monty Python’s The Life of Brian you’ll be aware there is a scene where a market place of ideas is shown.

John the Baptist had disciples following him, spiritual seekers. In our gospel reading he signposts them to Jesus. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother was one of these first century spiritual seekers looking for the answer to lifes big questions.

Andrew hit the jackpot when he encountered Jesus and asked him where he was staying. Andrew recognised Jesus as messiah and the answer to his questions almost immediately according to the passage and shared the news with his brother who was another spiritual seeker. Philip another of those Jesus attracts shared the news with Nathanael.

Now Nathanael it  appears was a bit more wary and when he heard Jesus was from Nazareth asked, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”.

Philip doesn’t get into a big debate and argument with Nathanael but rather invites him to come and see for himself.

Jesus recognises that Nathanael needs evidence and encouragement to follow him. He recognised that Nathanael was a straight forward person who didn’t play games. So Jesus tells him he saw him under the fig tree. This is something personal and direct which relates specifically to Nathanael.

Nathanael who then recognises that he has been wrong and Philip is telling him the truth about Jesus follows him. Jesus makes the point that he will see things beyond those he has thought about.

So Jesus takes a group of spiritual seekers and turns them into disciples, ordinary people who will change the world. Ordinary people who will be used to found the church, a church which whilst not always getting it right has had a major role in helping to alleviate the suffering of many different people in different situations.

If we too have turned from spiritual seekers to followers who are becoming disciples that lays a challenge to us today because the God of the Psalmist, the God of Nathanael and the God we encounter are one in the same.

In this time and place we are those called to be used to be part of the change we and God wants to see. We are called to follow him and be involved in giving the poor the place of safety they long for, in being used to help fulfil the promises of the Lord and in helping other seekers find him.

Whilst I could have put in loads I’ve just put in a couple of useful links if you want to be part of the change, in addition to the  Trussell Trust (Foodbank) link earlier:

Enough Food If Campaign

British Red Cross

Susan Harper meets the Hairy Bikers

Ok, so I have previously talked about the need to get more healthy and to step up a gear on the diet stuff. Today I took inspiration from what I’d seen on the Hairy Bikers Diet Club shows over Christmas and tried a skinny beef lasagne, but with my own Susan Harper take on things going on.

To give some background to this I am not a veg type person and I am wary of trying new things. This meal involved a whole new vegtable – leek. Whilst lots of other bits of the meal can be amended, as I’ll illustrate the leek is key because it is what takes the place of the pasta.

The link above gives the official version, what follows is my own Susan Harper style take on it – for the fussy eater who has to get this evenings sermon finished and order of service typed up because the week has been a tad busy.

Ingredients:

One packet of organic lean beef mince that you got as part of a 3 for £10 deal in Sainsbury’s or similar (or bought seperately if appropriate). That said any mince will do – it’s just what I had in the freezer.

One leek

Some peas which came out of a bag of frozen peas (although it could be fresh). Don’t ask me how much, I go for put the right amount in the saucepan for the number of people eating it approach.

Some cauliflower and broccoli florets (again frozen, although could be fresh). And again don’t know how much you should put in, I put in a couple of each type of veg.

4 desert spoons of Bisto Cheese Sauce Granuals

250 ml boiling water

Tub of Sainsbury’s Basil and Tomatoe pasta sauce (or whatever brand happens to be on special that week)

A bit of cheese you have left over in the fridge.

A bit of oil (going for healthy we are using good quality rape seed at the moment) – aim at about 10ml, but you know what’s right for your pan

A smidgen of  classic cyder vinegar – a tiny bit about 5ml, but just a tiny tip is more how I measure.

Method

Boil the peas and florets together for about 6 minutes

Heat the oil and cyder vinegar and then throw the mince in with it to brown. When browned throw in the tub of pasta sauce and heat for a couple of minutes.

Mix up the cheese sauce granuals using the boiling water and then stir the sauce into the mince and tomatoe sauce mix to thicken.

Drain the veg and put in with the mince for a couple of minutes to mix it all together, mash down the florets during this process – or cut into bits with knife whilst draining. Basically florets end up as small as peas

While mince is cooking prepare leek leaves. You unpeel the leek and lay the leaves out ready.

I didn’t cook the leeks in advance but will do so next time.

Put your first layer of the mince mixture in the baking dish

Put a layer of leek leaves on top

Put in another layer of mince

Put in another layer of leek leaves

Grate the bit of cheese and sprinkle over

Cook at 180 degrees in a heated oven for 45 minutes.

Verdict

Ok so the top leek leaves were crispy, but Karl liked those. Rest of it was really lovely and all done with no pasta of potatoes involved. Could also we worked out be done with Quorn and so will be a dish we can offer in both meat eater and veggie form.

Result :)

 

One Year, Another Step

Yesterday Karl had his first appointment at the gender clinic down in London; the next significant step in the journey. As part of this he had to get the paperwork out evidencing that he’d been living the “real life experience” which in plain English means giving proof he has been living as a male full time. In going through this material he saw that it was a year to the day yesterday since he came out at work.

I know that he intends to write something on the subject, explaining how he has found the year, on his blog at some point and during the year I’ve given some posts about my feelings on this blog. Today I want to look at it slightly differently to when I’ve talked about the feelings and making sense of the journey side of things and talk a little about what it’s been like practically for me living with somebody going through the journey.

First subject I want to approach is clothes shopping. Initially this was a hard experience and I found myself getting a bit indignant on Karl’s behalf when there were changing room issues, for example. However, we quickly found strategies to deal with things – a key one being that we were careful to know measurements and be certain about what we wanted. We’d buy with a we can always return this after we’ve tried it on at home approach. Obviously for somethings like under wear this doesn’t apply and so if it is something where we can’t try the item on and return/ exchange it if it’s not right we’ll buy a single item and/or cheaper style first and then invest in the better quality one when we know it’s what Karl wants/finds comfortable.

Mail order is something that can be useful if you know what you want but in many ways we have found it useful to go round and continue to shop locally. I don’t know how much of that was influenced by Karl’s initial order for a binder being impounded by customs along the route but I think actually it’s because in many shops, where staff are well trained on customer service, if you explain the situation you can be helped on the journey. One example of this is where I was going shopping for a pair of slippers for Karl fairly early on in the journey. Karl has relatively little feet and so shopping for male items can be an issue. The lovely lady in M&S said that she didn’t have any male slippers which fitted apart from the children’s, which weren’t appropriate but there was a pair in the women’s section which were plain navy and unisex in style. Thus, we were able to get around the problem and it is something which has continued to be the solution when looking for shoes other than trainers. We find very plain dark coloured footwear which they do in almost identical styles for men and women, it means Karl can have shoes which fit but which are still masculine in style.

Another area which we have learnt to deal with is toilets when we go out. Karl will make judgement calls as to whether to use the male or disabled toilets dependant upon how much hassle he is likely to get and whether there are disabled customers around who will need to use the disabled facilities, thus meaning he really needs to use the male toilets even if he thinks some level of personal safety risk is involved. It’s complicated but again it means we think about where we go and the facilities available. One pub for example is somewhere where the level of risk involved for Karl is quite high but also you have to get the key for the disabled facilities and this is something that he sometimes has issues getting – as people don’t understand there is  a good reason behind it. We try to avoid being in this pub for too long in anyone go and are likely to use other ones in the area if possible. It was weird initially for me getting used to Karl using different loos but now it seems quite normal.

Other people’s reactions is something I am still getting used to and needing to judge how to handle different people – knowing whether to correct them when they talk about him with the wrong pronoun or not. Often because I don’t feel confident challenging them – because we all get pronouns wrong sometimes, myself included – and what I do is just make sure I put in his name to emphasise it is him.

I know when there have been odd issues which have arisen Karl has not told me because he hasn’t wanted me getting either upset or indignant, (and I could go either way). This has been fine but I do want find it useful to know and not just hear about by overhearing his conversations with others who he is more comfortable talking to these things with.

Another issue which has really hit home is the importance of healthy eating. I know that for surgery to be offered and successful health is important and that Karl needs to lose a bit of weight to get his BMI down to what it needs to be. As the person who does the shopping and majority of the cooking in the house that has laid a responsibility on me that I need to introduce changes in both our diets. It’s a journey, over the next few months things will need to step the changes to diet/ portion size up a gear further and get more exercise included in our routines in order for Karl to get to a point where he can have the surgery he needs.

Like so many other things that last point is something beneficial to us. Thinking about what you eat and being more careful in choosing your clothes, etc are not bad things. They can take more time and effort but they are positive changes which are benefiting both of us, trans or not. My own views on clothing have changed slightly too. I am getting very good at looking in well known quality stores, where I know staff are excellently trained and have good customer service, as their sales are coming to an end in order to find the right clothes at a properly affordable price.

A final issue for me has been the level of myth and uncertainty around the journey and what happens next. Trans people and their families in many ways are expected to be the experts with the answers when to be honest they don’t always have all those answers themselves. When Karl got back yesterday I was reassured in many ways because he’d raised some of our joint concerns with the doctor and had gotten clarification on a few things. One problem we have found is that myth and exaggeration can creep in to an extent they become accepted fact when actually things are sometimes slightly different and what is actually described is the worst case scenario rather than the norm.

We know that whilst not always easy our journey, and Karl’s first year of real life experience has been far better than most people’s and that is in a large part because of the way in which he has been supported by a range of people including others in the trans community, his employers, his church and beyond. I have also been grateful for the support I have received from others in the trans community, some of whom I guess it might have been a bit difficult for – seeing us as the happy couple when many of them are single. I have also been so lucky that I have been able to take time listening formally and informally to a local trans expert who has advised the FA and others on trans issues. For me one of the most useful things has been going to see her give presentations and listening to her talk about trans issues in a way which has been depersonalised. It has helped for me to be able to look at the issues involved, and what Karl is facing, in a far more objective way.

For me the key to the last year has been communication and confidence. One aspect has been learning to say what I’m worried about or what I don’t understand in a sensitive way. When things have become difficult it’s often been because one or other of us hasn’t felt comfortable saying what we’re feeling – in the aftermath of arguments it has become clear on those occasions that we were talking about aspects of the journey at cross purposes. One was expressing a fear they had whilst another was expressing a completely different fear. (Doesn’t help here when you have a scientist and a humanities/ social studies person talking using totally different frames of reference).

I still view myself as a gay woman, he views himself as a straight guy. Our relationship doesn’t fit into having the binary labels normally used because there isn’t a label to properly fit it. In many ways that it quite liberating and something I have become more comfortable with as the year has progressed. It has also helped that our confidence and the strength of our relationship have both grown through this. It forces you into a place where if you are to live in fullness rather than fear you have to face things as they really are rather than how you wish they were. We have found you also have to be ready to ask the question “can I do this?” with the possibility the answer may be “no”. Our own answer is, “we don’t know, but we’re going to have a damn hard try at it.”

So it’s been a challenging year, and the year to come will be more challenging as Karl moves on to starting the hormone treatment and he visually starts to change even more. The lesson we have both perhaps learnt is that on this journey we need to simply be ourselves and use the strategies we already have from our wider lives. Both of us have experience of getting through without fitting in and not always meeting the perceived norms – this is just another example of that.

So that’s where I’m coming from and how I’ve found it – when Karl has written his side I’ll post a link on here.

Knowing Where to Turn

I’ve talked before on this blog about places to turn for support if you are LGBandT and Christian and safe spaces, most recently though this resource list.

One of the groups I think is particularly exciting and vibrant on there is the Two23 Network. There last meeting was on Saturday on the subject of “families”.

There were a few people sharing their experiences of being family members of LGBandT people before Dr. Micah Jazz spoke eloquently and insightfully about our need to widen our view and not fall into focusing on a narrow view of nuclear family when the Christian faith offers such a vibrant alternative. Of those who spoke before one couple were involved in FFLAG and that’s a group I know does alot of good work but I haven’t signposted in the past - so putting that right now. They’re a secular rather than explicitly faith based group but do alot of good work.

What I really liked about the session was the way in which narrative was able to speak in a way which had a really holy feel to it.

Also realised that I have been very Christo centric in the past and in an attempt to put that right now I’m signposting you to Imaan which is a support group working with Muslim LGBandT people.

I know that it is getting into the world of work crossing into personal life with this post but I am become more and more aware of the importance of signposting and allowing people to access information and so don’t think a post like this every once in a while hurts.