Tuesday, 4 December 2012

'On with the Mish'

Have you ever thought to yourself 'how do I know what my calling is'?

I think that all the time...

I always wondered what it would look like to hear God's voice and follow his will.
Then he showed me that it happens every day on a small scale.  Because I'm always looking for something big and extravagant like a 10 year life plan laid out before me, I miss the small things that God does through my life every day.  And here is a little fragment of my calling this year:

If you have read my previous blog post 'In with the Bish', you will be familiar with the inspiration behind this next chapter of the story that I am about to share with you.  If you didn’t, in summary: I attended a conference with John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who spoke on the revival of a broken Generation Y.  I was truly moved by his stories and inspired by his wisdom, and returned with an eagerness to reach out to young adults as they walk through the difficulties of life.  Because Jesus first loved me, how could I then go on to love others?  And so my mission began...

In the weeks following the conference I thought hard, felt much, and met with various people to talk about what I’d brought home with me.  I got together with Joshua the student leader at my church St.Nic’s and we discussed the best ways to accommodate this care and support for young adults.

Then ‘Reel’ was born:  

a group based on film and friends with a few meals thrown in for good measure.  We found a way to bring community back into a generation dominated by virtual social worlds and distracting technology.  Sure enough students love watching movies and love free food and are enthused to hang out with one another to share these mutual loves. You may have heard the phrase ‘the Church is the only group that exists for its non-members’, and holding steadfast to that truth, we wanted to create a community that is open to everyone of the student age, from all subcultures and backgrounds.  

So what do we actually do? 
Reel works on a 3 week cycle to give a bit of variety to the group.  We started off with a giant pot of homemade tomato soup to feed over 30 university students crammed into my flat, initiating some ice-breaker games to help people get to know one another.  On the second week we gathered to watch a film, followed by a discussion about the themes of the movie and how we can relate it to our lives and culture.  For the third week we broke down into small groups of 6-8 to have a time of openness and vulnerability with one another.  During this time we share our difficulties and successes, our pains and joys, and offer guidance and support to build genuine friendships to encourage one another through the individual journeys we walk.  And then we loop and do the whole thing again... food, film, friends!

The idea is to rely on the students to volunteer their homes as a hosting venue, working together to cook for the group or provide snacks for movie night.  Giving them this opportunity has had a fantastic impact, and I have been delighted to see young people grow in responsibility and compassion for others.  Students have brought some fascinating topics to the table in our small-groups, ranging from ‘how do I know where my life is going?’ to ‘how do I help my friend with psychological illness?’ and ‘why is Bruce Willis like Jesus?’ (don’t ask).  There have been deep questions ignited, real pains revealed, and strong relationships planted.  Reel is working.

I have learnt that if you are inspired by something, you must not just let it fade.  Reel so far has been proof to me that great things can grow from tiny seeds.  And this is just the beginning...  

You may have heard the news about the rejection of women bishops that has been bombarding the news as of late, and the talk of the church that is all criticism of dysfunction.  But behind this curtain of dispute the real work is happening.  People are united in a shared sense of compassion for the lost, and real lives are being changed, I know, I see it every week!  It doesn’t matter what the ‘system’ is doing.  It matters what the people are doing.  It matters that people are following their calling.  And the mission continues...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Fuel for 'Feminism' & Reclaiming the 'Feminine'

I’m Annie.  You probably know that.  So if you’ve met me, read my blog, followed me on twitter or simply heard of me, you probably also know me as a ‘Feminist’.  

“Hi, meet Annie, she’s a feminist”

“Oh so you’re Annie the feminist”

“You’re that feminist aren’t you, so why do you hate men then?”

As if it isn’t bad enough that feminists have been given the label of ‘man haters’ (see blog post on the F word), but my beliefs about gender equality have somehow managed to present themselves as my sole identity.  You may as well brand a big ‘F’ into my forehead!  

So for the sake of my own social retribution, let me explain why that ‘F’ should be replaced with a ‘C’.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was very angry and bitter, yet passionate about justice.  She dressed in dark clothing to match her dark soul and dark thoughts and she didn’t really like anyone.  She was sad and lonely and never really had much of an example of true ‘masculinity’ in the way that God intended it to be.  She saw violence, hatred, rage, malice and deception.  The definition of ‘man’ was: reckless predator with high alcohol content.  She felt the inflictions of this broken image and her heart gave birth to feminism, a screaming baby with high demands to be consoled.  She kicked and screamed and fought this ‘otherness’ of men that she just could not understand, as anger fuelled the journey in her search for peace between men and women.  Needless to say, anger does not breed justice.  No peace was found.

It wasn’t until the girl was touched by God, and for the first time in her life felt what is confined to the word ‘love’, that things began to change.  Her heart was transformed - a true miracle.  A perfect father affectionately placed his hand on the screaming rage and brought peace to an angry feminist.  All of a sudden, into her life came a figure of real ‘masculinity’, of love and comfort and adoration.  A protector had found her.  But she didn’t want to be protected, this was all new to her, she denied such love at first, and time was leant to her to grapple in search of understanding.  Darkness was all she’d ever known, so what was this light?  She tried to find ‘Mother God’, she found her, yet something was lacking.  Then God sent her an earthly father, a man persistent in love, a reflection of the heavenly parent who never gives up on his children.  She could not escape this physical presence and she softened, and as she learnt to receive love, she learnt also to give love in return.  The bitterness was made weak by the strength of deep compassion, and the feminist fell in love with Jesus the man and God the Father.

And they lived happily ever after...?  Well, almost.
The fuel behind my feminism has changed, but it is still there, just as it is there for God who hates violence and loves the unity of man and woman.  As we know, Jesus spent most of his life trying to liberate women.  My feminism is not something to be feared, or scoffed at, or joked about, because it’s probably not what you think it is.  So, to clear things up:

I am not a feminist because I hate men, but because I love them.

I am not a feminist because I love women more, but because I want men and women to love one another.

So I love men, does that make me a bad feminist?  Arguably I am ‘better at feminism’ now I’ve had a change of heart and the fuel is pure.  Through embracing an image of truer masculinity, I have also come to see the ‘feminine’ that once was lacking from my feminism.  Blessed also with an earthly godmother as of late, it has become all too evident that my desires have changed and my fears have been lifted.  Over time the dark clothes disappeared, I stopped hiding behind my grim image and bitter grudges against the hurt I’d suffered.  An exchange was made as the frustration of being weak and vulnerable evaporated, and was replaced by a new celebration of my God-given feminine beauty and a real sense of joy and peace that I am a woman.  So what if I’d like to be a wife and a mother!  Does that make me any less of a person?  You’d think so according to my own determined political passions, but being a feminist is NOT about becoming as ‘masculine’ as possible and denying all those wonderful things that women are so dearly blessed with.  I am a feminist whose heart has grown to love her femininity, to embrace it even and enjoy it for the blessing that it is.  I am a feminist who loves men and women for all their differences and unique characteristics that are equally beautiful reflections of a divine God.

If I were branded, brand me with a ‘C’.  I belong to Christ, and my love for him comes first, as he first loved me.  The consequence of this is an outpouring of that love, so through me flows a passion for the lost and broken.  A consequence of this is my feminism.  For God so loved the world, man and woman, that he made us all in his beautiful image - God so loved the world, man and woman, that he gave his only son to set us free of conflict and hatred.  And there you have it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

'In with the Bish'

Last month I was invited to a conference by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, not a usual venture for an exams officer to undertake1.  The two day programme in the beautiful city of Durham was to equip those who are dedicated to the support and welfare of young people in the north of England (yes, apparently the north stretches as far south as Nottingham in this case - the Archbishop has a big vision and knows no limits!)

During my short yet impacting time at Cranmer Hall, I attended a heart wrenching seminar on Generation Y (those born between the 80’s and the beginning of the new millennia).  Ruth spoke on the challenges that face Gen Y and why the works of previous Gen X has left them with little to live for.  Our students have been tragically named; ‘the debt gen’,’ the tech gen’, ’the ‘me’ gen’...  Gone are the days when teenagers are handed over to the world and expected to become responsible in order to survive, as the phenomena of ‘Helicopter parents’ makes it possible for adolescents to ‘just have fun’ without needing to grow up.  Through social media we have instant communication, virtual friendships, and a wider yet shallow support network.  There is a constant fight to become a ‘somebody’ rather than a ‘nobody’ - counting quantity of friendships, in the desperation caused by lack of quality friendships.  All seems lost when depression, eating disorders and mental health problems are growing, and more teenagers are prescribed anti-depressant drugs than ever before.  With escalating divorce rates and family breakup, the promise of debt after education and the disappearance of real community, Gen Y has got it bad.  But there is hope.

John Sentamu with his inescapable humour and gripping stories wooed a dominantly western culture group with his words of compassion and his heart for the broken.  In the mist of postmodernity we keep getting lost in translation, but Sentamu like a breath of fresh air sweeps through and makes a clear path for the purpose of growth and journey.  Calling us to speak the language of our culture, he spoke of revival in our generation, of new beginnings and alternative ways of leading our youth.  He encourages us to use a language that translates, to speak through with words of hope, a new alternative: living freely, engaging deeply, with burdens lifted and hope restored.

The Church (meaning ‘the people’ as a thriving living collective, rather than a decrepit old building) plays a huge part in this, and IS relevant today!  Contrary to popular belief, listening to the blare of an organ and sitting in a pew with your head hung solemnly is not fundamental to Christianity. The church of the past may have adopted such a style, but form can change whilst content stays the same.  What is really important to the Christian faith is that it offers a relationship like no other, and the way we actively engage in that relationship on a daily basis needs to work.  Although some congregations are stuck in the past, most have begun to speak the language of today, translating what has always been truth into something that is accessible, enjoyable and impacting.  But is the rest of the world aware of this revival?

Preconceptions and stereotypes are stubborn barriers to erode, but this cannot be avoided simply because it’s a tough challenge. More than ever before, we need to offer our generation some good news for once.  There is a place that they can find acceptance, there is a place that they can find recognition, and there are communities in which they can form deep relationships with real love at the centre.  You may chuckle, but the Bish really is ‘down with the kids’ - and many more are united in this new vision to save a lost generation.

1. I have left the realm of studentdom and now have a job in the 'real world' - well... kinda... I'm studying for an MA in Systematic & Philosophical Theology in my 'spare' time.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

'I never kiss and tell'

I’ve found myself walking past a group of ‘lads’, bantering about the girl they pulled last night and how good (or bad!) she was in bed.  On a disturbing number of occasions I’ve heard some vulgar mutterings and extremely embarrassing revelations of the all too common drunken fling.  I’ve heard girls being called some horrid names, and criticised for how much pubic hair they have, or for their choice of underwear, or for the manners in which they try to arouse a man.  I’ve felt a heartbreaking flinch at the echoing laughter at the misfortune of some poor girl oblivious to any of this mockery.  It could even be a girl I know.  It could be you.  Whatever happened to ‘I don’t kiss and tell’? 
Gone are the days where one would exercise modesty, honour, respect.  In the rise of ‘sexual liberation’ and the acceptance of sexual pluralism, we find a string of destruction trailing behind.  The most disturbing notion I have observed is that it seems to go unnoticed.  But does that make it acceptable?  So what if people are laughing behind your back - you can’t hear it so you don’t care.  Sadly that’s not the case.  We all want due respect.

When we look at the effects of gossip on a wider scale, we can see that metanarratives are being created, and standards set for women everywhere.  Women are being objectified as tools for sexual gratification, and as these tools we are expected to meet a certain criteria of how we should look, the clothes we should wear and the way we should act in a sexual setting.  With these ideals and ‘perfections’ comes a disqualification of the different, and if we do not fit these categories of the perfect sexual object we are excluded, laughed at, mocked amongst others.  The irony is found in that no-one meets these expectations.  Men expect a porn-star fantasy, when in reality, women have lumps and bumps and emotions and wants underneath that shiny shaven sexual robot.  Sorry guys, we are just as human as you are!

Now I have successfully created man-haters of you all, I would like to make the point that women too are guilty of this gossip.  Although it seems far more rare, I have heard the occasional comparison of body shape, penis size and duration of erectile function.  Girls, you wouldn’t appreciate guys talking about you in this way.  It’s not clever, and you don’t look good for mocking.  It’s actually rather embarrassing.  However, I have found that this is extremely rare, and although girls are more prone to gossip, it’s usually on the subject of the qualities the encountered man possesses.  “What does he study? Is he nice? Where did he take you? Are you going to see him again?”  Women on the whole seem to have more decency about them when it comes to mocking sexual exploits. (1) 

So, I’m not saying we should stop talking about sex.  I’m simply saying we need to start doing it respectfully, honouring the people that decide to make themselves so vulnerable to you that they allow you to share with them a sexual experience.  Whether you are in a long term relationship or participating in drunken flings (2), I urge you to have some respect for the other partner.  It’s not cool to banter about such a personal experience with ‘the lads’.  It’s not smart to mock someone because they don’t fit your ideals (3) (the truth is that you probably don’t fit theirs either).  But the fact is that you shared that experience together, you both opened up and gave yourselves physically to one another.  Surely this deserves some honour and respect. Bring it back: ‘I never kiss and tell’.

(1) I maintain however that I have no statistical proof for such a theory, I am merely referring to personal research and experience.
(2) I will refrain from going into my views on the proper use of sex on this occasion.
(3) Or arguably societies ideals.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Rae Morris

In the Red Room of Rescue Rooms, Rae drew in a small crowd of fans for a rather intimate performance.  The audience stood for two talented support acts, including London’s Marie Naffah, another young artist in the making.  Rae approached the stage and people gathered around to be as close with this lyrical goddess as they possibly could, some even sitting on the floor right in front of the stage and cramping along the side.  As eager listeners homed in, Rae sang a short set of stories with great sincerity.

‘It’s like having a birthday party’ she said ‘and even though it’s your party you’re afraid no one will turn up’.  Her timid stage presence and evident nervousness were placebos to her performance.  A skilled pianist combined her incredibly versatile vocals into beautiful compositions, each one increasingly emotionally impacting.  Listeners clung to every word and note, Rae holding the entire room in the hypnotic world of a young woman with a lot of passion.  This friendly Blackpool girl was eager to chat with locals after the show, ‘I want to know more about Robin Hood’ she said.  This artist has a lot to give and a long way to go.  You can download Rae’s ‘Blueprint Demos’ for free at www.raemorris.co.uk .

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Joshua Buckland

Nottingham University’s very own Joshua Buckland has been hitting the music scene in the city with performances fit for the bigger stage.  The Mic has been keeping a close eye on this guy, checking out his most recent gig at The Maze.

Joshua with great panache managed to draw in a difficult crowd of varying age groups and musical tastes, and kept ears perked with storytelling lyrics and heart stopping acoustic riffs.  His set was well comprised with his own material; ‘Diamonds In Your Eyes’ and ‘Cold, Drunk and Alone’ with contagious rhythms leaving you trying to sing along to these unknown tracks.  His romantic cover of ‘The Book of Love’ originally by The Magnetic Fields captured the heart of every young girl and middle-aged man in the room.  Well, almost…

Joshua was also joined on stage by Mark Bridger on electric guitar and backing vocals for ‘Smoking Never Looked So Cool’, a song by the lads band Banshee Boardwalk.  Adding another level to Buckland’s fascinating material, this band are another name to look out for, leaving little room for criticism with their raw musical talent.  Joshua is fairly new to the live music scene, but promises to deliver with passion and determination.  Check out his upcoming ‘Bedroom EP’ on Soundcloud and support your local musicians.

I also had the privilege to accompany Joshua to his performance at the Crocus Café in Lenton (Nottingham), a fantastic venue for chilled-out open mic nights for which I was commissioned to take photographs. You can find them here.