15 Sep

Disturbing hope: Settle down in Babylon

PLant gardens and eat what they produce

My youngest helping to plant potatoes in our garden 2 years ago, he is now 3, the same age as drowned refugee Aylan Kurdi.

 

Most translations of the Bible subtitle Jeremiah 29 ‘a letter to the exiles’ or something similar.  Jeremiah’s words to those in Babylon then exiled from Jerusalem echo down the millennia into our current global situation:

‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’

Back then I imagine this was the last thing the exiles wanted to hear.  The prophet, God’s mouth piece, telling them to make this strange land their home. The exiles opening the letter would be hoping to hear that things were changing, that they should prepare for action in readiness for a return home.  Maybe they hoped the prophet was writing with news that the Babylonians had been overthrown in Jerusalem. Maybe they hoped the prophet was writing with a strategy for undermining Babylonian power. I can’t imagine how they felt when what they read was an Old Testament equivalent of ‘calm down, calm down.’

Unwillingly living in the land of their enemy, full of anger and resentment following the trauma of seeing their own city taken captive, it would only be natural for them to want revenge, to ruin Babylon.  Yet God’s prophet tells them to settle down. Huh, not rise up? To marry the locals. Are you kidding? To seek the prosperity of Babylon. What, not Jerusalem?

How disturbing. I find the Common English Bible’s subtitle for the section the most pertinent, ‘Disturbing Hope: Settle Down in Babylon.’

Reading it now, it is also disturbing to realise that as a Christian in Europe, I am not so much exile but more Babylonian.  So, if Jeremiah was writing to the Babylonian’s, if Jeremiah was writing to those countries receiving exiles now, how would it read?

‘Give them land, welcome them; show them which crops thrive and share your family recipes. Educate them with your children, let them live, learn and love together with you that they might make families full of joy. Do not control their numbers. Encourage and enable their contributions, your future and that of your children depends on it.’

What are you going to do?

http://www.homeforgood.org.uk/get-involved/responding-refugee-crisis/film-refugee-crisis-urgent-call-action

 

https://www.facebook.com/HopeFoodbank?fref=ts

http://www.liverpool.anglican.org/Refugees-Responding-with-Heart-and-Mind

https://www.opendoorsuk.org/campaign/stepofyes/syria_150904.php?src=WB1528&step1=appeal

http://www.tearfund.org/en/refugeecrisis/

 

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s figures for 2014 there are globally 19.5 million refugees and 38.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 7.6 million IDPs in Syria alone. In 2014 there were 1.66 million applications for asylum worldwide, the highest number ever. It is likely the figures for 2015 will be similar or higher.

http://www.unhcr.org.uk/about-us/key-facts-and-figures.html

 

 

06 May

Empty room?

View from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

View from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

This evening was the first in a series of evenings at Liverpool Cathedral exploring how to live fruitfully whilst going through infertility.  Perhaps we had not given enough attention early enough to publicity: No one came to participate.  Those of us that have prayerfully planned and prepared content, food, hearts and minds were there but no one came to gather with us.

We were there in time to create a hospitable environment, food ready to serve, kettle on and praying for those that might come. We waited, nothing happened.  There were a couple of false alarms, noises that made us think someone might be on the stairs – that our room would be filled.  But a peep out of the door confirmed; no one was coming.

Expectant and yet unfilled, our meeting room much like our wombs…

Our desire to live faithfully and fruitfully in our infertility,  the delight we have already found in shared stories,  our determination to avoid redundancy with our time and resources meant that the room was far from empty..

We ate well, laughed together, there were tears too but mainly we shared hopes and dreams about how our stories walking with God through infertility might be of some comfort to others.  Discussing the tension between how much we would have loved to come to such a course soon after discovering we had fertility issues but how hard it would be to come as the complex emotions create a raw fragility hard to place into the hands of strangers.

In time some of the dreams we shared may come to reality, perhaps a support group, maybe some one day events… perhaps you dream of some kind of support that we might be able to offer?

Meanwhile, we continue to pray that the next four Wednesdays will be fruitful, hopefully with participants joining us. Knowing that with us and God the room will never really be empty.

Next week, if anyone can make it, we will be sharing food,  our stories and survival tips from 6:30 in the Radcliffe Room at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

15 Mar

Cot Idol

cot idol

Here’s one I wrote a while ago, that has been rescued after the site crashed…

Worship of idols used to be a lot simpler, there was much greater clarity.  A bronze statue, a golden calf, a sacred pole, an altar to a false deity, a beast endowed with holiness by some arbitrary process or decision.  You knew where you were. You chose an idol and sacrificed to it.  You dedicated time, worship, money; whatever the idol demanded. The pleasure or displeasure of the idol incurred by your actions determined your well-being and success.  When Yahweh demanded the removal and destruction of idols back in the day, those idols were clearly identifiable and God’s wrath and His people’s actions had a clear target.  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+12%3A+2-4&version=NRSV)

Idolatry has lost its brazen and in broad daylight quality. Today’s idols masquerade as normal, innocuous, everyday people and objects. Some of them even good things. But all get in the way of relationship with God. Today’s idols demand worship in much subtler forms, are hard to identify and  even harder to remove.  And yet for our faith to flourish, remove them we must.

So how on earth do you remove the idol that we can so easily make out of the desire to have a child?

I have been wrestling with my idolatry for almost all of my 43 years, with the idol taking greater hold when my fertility became uncertain following traumatic events when I was 17. My now husband’s first declaration of his ‘intentions’ 19 years ago, included proposed names for our children, Tom, Beth and Joshua – so my idol became shared.

Culture and church community often colluded with our idolatry, the desire for a child becoming our focus and purpose.  The idol all-consuming and unrelenting in withholding its blessing.

When we asked for prayer regarding our childlessness, the prayers often appeased our idol. Prayers for pregnancy, prophetic (sounding) declarations of when our idols would appear to us, heart felt pleas that our infertility would end.

It didn’t.

And within the search for the child idol we found ourselves often remote from God, so our idolatrous quest and worship left us battered and betrayed, empty and isolated. We realised we had to restore God to his rightful place in our lives and place our desire for a child as subject to Him.  We had twisted God into becoming a subject of our idol, casting Him in the role of dispenser of children, seeking Him for that purpose, rather than for His glory and the purposes of His kingdom.

The child idol was firmly in place for the first few years as we tried to get pregnant.  I wish I could identify the pivotal moment when we decided that we would ask for prayer to help us remain faithful to God rather than asking God to get us pregnant. Many have struggled to understand, those that pray with us often still prioritise the empty whom over the faithful heart.

Banishing the idol and seeking God has not taken away the grief of infertility, it has however enabled us to embrace adoption and fill our home with delightful sons.  Banishing the idol and seeking God has enabled us to see our brokenness as a gift to be shared, from which fruitfulness can emerge.  It is a great privilege to be traveling alongside David, Lizzie and others to offer our brokenness to seek to equip others to better approach infertility with God in an event that took place in Liverpool on March 17thhttp://www.liverpool.anglican.org/lifecallhomeforgood  Looking to the future we are seeking to develop further resources and events to support those trying to hold onto faith through the journey of infertility… what could we do that would help you?

Our idol has never lived up to our expectations but our God continues to exceed them.

10 Mar

Walking on Eggshells

 

 

I had known Phil just 4 days when he asked me if Tom, Beth and Joshua would be good names for our children. Much to his surprise, I burst into tears: I already knew I was very unlikely to be able to get pregnant.

There have since been a seemingly never ending variety of conversations that follow a similar pattern. Someone makes a kindly intended, seemingly innocuous comment based on the presumption that getting pregnant is part of life’s naturally unfurling pattern.  I either erect a wall to protect myself or drop my defenses to show them a little of my pain.

I demolished the wall and Phil saw more pain than I had allowed myself to acknowledge before then. As a single woman, my infertility could be held at a distance, disconnected from my reality like an unproven theory.  Phil’s words brought it hurtling into the present.

The moments that followed were bursting with potential for disaster.  One clumsy statement from Phil and I would retreat into my shell of shame and fear.  Succumbing to the desire to cling to the unfounded dream of a perfect wife and Phil would leave the story on this page.

Thankfully, Phil says it was in the moment of my tearful honest vulnerability, that he knew he was in love with me.  Which is just as well because his next words sealed my love for him.  ‘I want all of you, not just your womb.’ And he held me as we both wept.

Many similar conversations have not finished so well.

The initial comment or question has sometimes been met with a hardening of my defences and a brush off, varying from fragile & gentle to angry & brusque. The other in the conversation probably bewildered and confused wondering what on earth went wrong.  I am left feeling unfaithful to my infertile history and community, I know that telling my story is a means of chipping away at the shame associated with infertility.

Sometimes it goes the other way.  I drop my defenses and respond honestly.  Then the other in the conversation is trusted for a moment to hold a little of my brokenness, which is frightening.

It is a difficult gift to handle and some drop it immediately, leaving me to pick up the bits and carry on.  Others meet my brokenness with embarrassment, which matches my shame and we share some mutual discomfort. Excruciatingly some glibly belittle the grief or express their relief that someone as strong as I is able to carry such a burden. Yet others propose an infallible solution, over 17 years I’ve heard quite a range, imagining that perhaps we hadn’t furnished ourselves with accurate details of how to go about making babies in the first place.

Phil’s response that acknowledged the problem and embraced me as a person, a whole and yet broken person, has been echoed by others over the years. There have been many brave friends and strangers that have seen the absorbing mess of infertility and embraced my vulnerability anyway.  For that, I am thankful.