The Lost Pilgrim’s Tale ..

Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales included tales from the Knight, Miller, Pardoner and even the wife of Bath, but to my knowledge the tale of the Lost Pilgrim remains untold.

She had heard of the pilgrimage to an ancient Holy Site, and wanted to be a part of it. She asked for details of the route and on the prescribed day packed up some food and water and set off to join the pilgrims en route, by the river. The river was high after all the rain, but the weather was fine, a golden late summer day, with signs of autumn approaching. The wheat was starting to ripen and the blue cornflowers were dancing in the breeze.The water looked majestic as it flowed downstream to the city of the great Cathedral.

She arrived in good time – really good time in fact as the main group were unexpectedly delayed – but although she was quite sure she was in the right place, she didn’t catch sight of or hear the group of men, women and children. She sat in the sun for a while watching the farmer -or his assistant – cutting the meadow grass and baling the hay – fodder for the animals in the long winter ahead.She watched the clouds form, and watched people on the paths and footbridge in the distance.

Take of the Lost Pilgrim

Tale of the Lost Pilgrim

She never caught sight of the pilgrims or the cross they were carrying.  Eventually she became restless, and began to explore the place herself, wandering the lanes and paths through the forest. She traced and retraced the route the pilgrims were to have followed, but she failed to pick up their trail. She never did find the Holy Site or the pilgrims. this certainly was not the pilgrimage she had planned for or anticipated, but in retrospect it was a silent retreat in the sole company of her Lord and Saviour and a day full of blessings.

What’s more there were the other pilgrims’ tales to look forward to – should she ever meet up with them!

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Friendship: befriending and defriending

As I’ve previously stated this blog is primarily for me. It’s a place where I think ‘out loud’, reflect on different things,and assess where I stand – and how much I’ve changed in my opinions – on different topics. Most of these issue stem from ‘real life’ because I’m neither particularly good at, or interested in, hypothetical musing.

Friendship. It means a lot to me, I value it, it brings colour, hope and a touch of realism to my life. But what is it? Why does it matter?

One definition of friendship it that it is a relationship between friends, and is usually based on mutual liking and respect, between two or more people or even people groups or nations. Synonyms include: relationship, friendly relationship, close relationship, attachment, mutual attachment, alliance, association, close association, bond, tie, link, union; amity, camaraderie, friendliness, comradeship, companionship, fellowship, fellow feeling, closeness, affinity, rapport, understanding, harmony, unity; intimacy, mutual affection; cordial relations.

Scripture states that it is not good for mankind to be alone, and my interpretation of that is that that we have an inherent need for others that goes way beyond our desire for a soul mate and partner. Recently the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said that her political party was there to keep another party ‘honest’. I like that nuance, and it’s part of what I feel real friendships give us as individuals. They move beyond the superficial, and provide relationships which help us hold up the mirror on our own behaviours, attitudes and give us the security to effect change where change is needed. There is a parity between friends, a mutual accountability, and it’s always effected in an environment of trust. Those conditions and indeed the relationship itself needs to be cultivated and nurtured, but when good a real friendship can really help us mature and grow.

Befriending is an interesting word. It means more than making friends with someone. One dictionary puts it like this:

to act as or become a friend to (someone), especially when they are in need of help or support.e.g “he makes a point of befriending newcomers to Parliament”

Another

To make friends or become friendly with; act as a friend to; help; aid: to befriend the poor and the weak.

In Christian circles there is something called friendship evangelism which carried (for me) some of the same connotations. Befriending a person because they need Christ is rather different from sharing your faith in Cheist with someone who happens to be your friend, and in the normal course of that relationship. I have a deep founded problem with friendship evangelism if it’s based on befriending, because it seems ethically suspect. I want my friends to meet Christ through me, to see Him in me and long for that same loving relationship for themselves, I want my friends to see how my life is being transformed by God’s love and hope for that saving grace for themselves. I absolutely don’t want to befriend folk in order to share the good news with them, but rather long to live alongside people where the Kingdom of God reaches down and touches them both through me, and in spite of me.

To my mind there is an inferred lack of parity in the befriending kind of relationship, an intentionality on the part of one to take on the other as a friend because that person is seemingly in need. There might be all kinds of real positives that come out of this kind of relationship, but it is not one between equals – there is an implicit mentoring implied, so to my way of thinking, it’s not really friendship.

Not all friendships last forever. Some are for a season, or during a particular set of circumstances for example. We have all probably had childhood / university friends who we lost contact with after school or college, or work mates or neighbours who moved away. There were also those friendships which didn’t work out at the time. The minor – or major- tiffs that served to emphasise an incompatibility between the two people, and so the friendship either never got started properly or was severed In some cases a confidence was broken or something was said that became ‘the final straw’. Former friends, in different circumstances and for different reasons, choose to go their separate ways. Sometimes one friend lets go more reluctantly than the other.

The break up of good friends, the breakdown of relationships in which lives were truly shared at a deep level, is never easy, indeed it’s often really painful, and not always civilised. In some instances, however, it is very much needed – in order that we grow. In the non-virtual world a break up always something tangible, although a slow decline of friendship with its gradual parting of the ways is perhaps less so.

De-friending is something different, though that difference isn’t easy to explain. It’s  a much newer term, and is used predominantly to mean the act of removing (a person) from the list of one’s friends on a social networking website, such as Facebook, although increasingly may be used to mean the act of ending a friendship in the non virtual world.

In some cases the process of de-friending is simply just a slow decline, a recognition that friends are no longer friends or that friends have become mere acquaintances or the friendship never really took off in the first place, and so a friend is quietly dropped, de-friended, deleted from the list. At other times people decide to have a “cull” to reduce their social network to more manageable proportions – a bit like compiling a wedding invitation list and realising you have to draw a line somewhere – and so – somewhat arbitrarily or so it seems to others – it is decided who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. It’s not necessarily visible, not like those awful in-out peer groups at school, but it’s the virtual equivalent.

The worst kind of de-friending, however, is when a real life friend, one you see or hear from regularly, deletes or limits your access  to them on social media and other forms of non face-to face communication without warning, reason or explanation. There might be perfectly good reasons for this, but the lack of discussion or communication about the decision can be very hurtful because the environment of trust is damaged by the very act of defriending or blocking.

Good friendships are worth fighting for! The very best tool in the fight is a willingness to communicate well. It starts with me …but can only work if the other person is ready to tango too..

We must become quick to love, slow to take offence, and desirous of communicating lovingly with each other – listening and sharing – and being willing to work at keeping ourselves and each other honest. It isn’t always easy to confront a friend – I hate doing it and shrink back from doing it – but it is an investment in the friendship to do so. As I already said, the holding up of a mirror for each other is for me one of the most important aspects of friendship. Our failure to do it – lovingly – is never in the best interests of either person. De-friending, I believe, is a passive aggressive act and it never  helps to build bridges or overcome difficulties. The antidote is opening up dialogues which help the friendshipto flourish or at least finish well!

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Status and its symbols

I nickname this blog Writing for Me in part because I work out what I’m thinking and feeling by verbalising it. Writing is a sort of speaking out loud without interruptions, and it gives me the space to change my mind as I unravel something in my mind and heart.

The issue I’m currently wrestling with is status – or more precisely status symbols. I like to think I’m not a snob, and that possessions don’t matter to me, but of course that is my subjective take on it, my perspective which is not without bias

I know I do judge people – even though even acknowledging that makes me feel ashamed and that makes me feel very uncomfortable – but the things I judge others for are rarely -if ever- about material things, thoughI recognise I do applaud – somewhat subconsciously, below the radar – those who chose to live a simpler, more environmentally conscious way of life.

What I do use as a barometer of sorts is the values people have, and how they treat others.

  • Are they friendly? Are they honest? Are they kind?
  • Do they demonstrate integrity? Is what they do consistent with what they say they believe to be right?
  • Do they share of what they have – their time, possessions, views? Do they extend hospitality?  Do they help others, for example?

For me these are the things which  really are important. way more important than whether the person owns or rents their home, whether they live in a house or a flat, whether they have a large well-kept garden or cultivate a wild jungle or have no yard at all … and I am honestly far more interested in what someone reads, their views on current events and how they spend their free time rather than what kind of car, bike or phone they have, or whether their clothing is a famous brand or the latest fashion – or not!

It is true historically that as people aspired to high status they often sought also its symbols. These change in value or meaning over time, and will differ among countries and cultural regions, based on their economy and technology, but keeping up with – and exceeding – the Joneses seems to have been something important in almost every era, albeit manifested in different ways. Before the advent of the printing press, for example, the owning of hand written, hand illustrated books was a status symbol, while later on having one’s own library of first editions – beautifully bound – was one way of demonstrating one’s elevated place in society. Today keeping up with the Joneses  is seen in other ways, and seems to still matter – but should it? And can it be manifested in better, newer, less materialistic ways I wonder.

My husband and I live simply – mostly by choice, although not having had a regular income for years has forced us to evaluate our perceived needs a lot. We eat rather well at home,we  but rarely eat out. We go for long walks with the dogs to a huge variety of nearby places, but rarely go to events unless they are free, public events that are dog friendly. I love people watching, and walking the dogs in urban settings gives me ample opportunity to do just that. Countryside walks are the opposite, they enable us to get away from the hustle and bustle of town life, and enjoy the nature, its beauty and the peace it offers. Most of my favourite clothing – accumulated over time – has been purchased in secondhand stores or charity shops. I do this not primarily to help the charity (though that is a side benefit) but because other people discard fabulous items. It also saves me wrestling with my conscience about the use of sweatshops and the conditions of workers -predominantly women – in places like India and Bangladesh etc. We drive an 8 year old car which we’ve treated well, and use regularly but sensibly, and most recently choosing to drive at more economical speeds, enjoying the journey not only looking to the destination!

There is a sort of reverse snobbery in this, I know, and that makes me uneasy because on one hand I really don’t want to impose my /our values on others, while on the other of course I do hope that we live in such a way that others might want to emulate those things in our lives that resonate with them.

Posted in issues, Politics

Summer reading

One of the nicest things about the summer – whatever the weather – is summer reading. I don’t do enough of it – there are always chores to be done, a long list of ‘to do’s waking to become ‘ta da!’ As my friend would say, but nonetheless two trips to the library this summer have resulted in some fun, lighter, summer reads. Fantastic!

One novel I dusted down from the shelf again this summer was Harper Lee’s 60s Classic To Kill a Mockingbird. I chose to re-read it because of Harper Lee’s decision to release her – until now – unpublished novel that preceded the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m looking forward to reading that in due course.

It’s been a few years since I read Harper Lee – she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and deservedly so. What I love about the novel is it’s simple insight into the thinking of the residents of a sleepy Alabama town, long before the recognition of the civil rights movement spearheaded by heroes such as Rosa Banks and Martin Luther King, but an inkling into how ordinary white folk were beginning to wrestle with what it means to be human.

One of my favourite Quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird is Atticus explaining to his young daughter (nicknamed Scout) as to why he was about to embark on what seemed to be a futile case, and which almost none of he local people were in favour of.

 “I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“That man” is, of course, Tom Robinson, a partially disabled Negro, falsely accused of molesting and raping a young, white, dirt poor woman.

Atticus is a man of principle. He is a product of his time and place, so some of what he says does come across as odd – sexist or racist to our ears seven or so decades on – but his words and actions, and his young daughter’s exploration of them in an era which would have boxed her in, raised and groomed her to be a southern lady, suggest that Atticus has begun to challenge the status norm of treating people differently merely because of the colour of their skin.

Atticus teaches both his children a very important lesson in life

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

That isn’t always so easy to do …but is so important.

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Mutliculturism

There is a wide range of different definitions and understandings of what mutliculturism is – and is not. Politicians, sociologists and historians – let alone ordinary pundits like me – understand the term in very many different ways, some more positively others more negatively.

In the past few days a certain Finnish politician here in Finland, Olli Immonen, has spoken out against mutliculturism, writing in English on Facebook.

I’m dreaming of a strong, brave nation that will defeat this nightmare called multiculturism

It’s caused a strong reaction, a backlash, around the nation. Amongst that reaction is a sense of fear, particularly a fear of the rise of any ‘us v them’ thinking, whether the ‘them’ is those who enrich our nation, language, culture OR those who belong to the political party the politician belongs to.

It is not so long ago that the Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron’ in 2011, found himself in similar multicultural hot water.

… we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values. 1

If Olli Immonen’s fear of  multiculturism is that it divides us, rather than brings us together, he could have a point. If his dream were assimilating all Finns -irrespective of their background, colour, gender, language, religious affiliation or sexual orientation – into one colourful, vibrant nation, embracing difference as part of the whole, instead of promoting grey uniformity as the norm, he might have a point.

Sadly that doesn’t seem to be his fear. While my dream is to live in a free and just society, where there is freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of opportunity and the same protection for all under the law, I am not convinced Immonen or the political party he belongs to share my vision.

His statement – and people’s reaction to it – across the political spectrum –  has got me thinking,however. In particular ‘what do I understand by the term multiculturalism?’ and ‘what role do I play (if any)?

One understanding is that multiculturism is the same as cultural pluralism. In other words multiculturalism is an ideology or doctrine that believes that a particular society benefits from the fact that minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences?

In the case of Finland, this means embracing Finnish minorities, including the Swedish speaking minority and the semi nomadic, Saami population of Lapland, with their ‘alternative’ languages, and cultural differences. Multiculuralism has helped both keep their distinct language and culture, while enabling them to participate fully in society and endorse their unique Finnishness.They are True Finns in the best sense of the word ! – watching Swedish speaking Finns at any Finland v Sweden match in the ice hockey world championships leaves you in no doubt of that!

Is multiculturalism then the opposite -in one sense – of assimilation?

For other minorities becoming part of Finnish society is certainly more troubled. The drive is less towards embracing the differences but more towards assimilation – speaking Finnish, not standing out, and behaving in ways that are more consistent with Finnish expectations.

Most Finns belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, for example. Historically, to be a member (Finnish or Swedish speaking) was to be a Finn, with only 1% belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church. To belong to another Christian denomination, to follow a different faith or to have no faith at all (secularism) is to be part of a minority … How far that difference is embraced varies, and fear of Islamic extremism in particular is growing here and indeed throughout Europe, giving rise to right wing political rhetoric and xenophobic speeches.

Until quite recently Finland was more or less monocultural. That’s changing – and the way I see it with that comes the challenge of preserving what it means to be a Finn, while at the same time embracing the range and diversity of all who live here.

I hope Finland can embrace an alternative brave, new world, can demonstrate what dialogue and consensus can achieve in creating a nation worth living in, a place of safety for all its citizens, and where love and respect flourish abundantly. What is certain is that we all must be prepared to work for it.

1 http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130109092234/http://number10.gov.uk/news/pms-speech-at-munich-security-conference/

2. The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition

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Death by suicide

There’s been an interesting shift in thinking in some groups I’m a part of, insofar as talking about suicide. I don’t mean assisted suicide or the legalisation of suicide, though those discussions are happening too. Did you know, for example, that a recent poll showed that “Majority of Scots in favour of assisted suicide”. A breakdown of the figures shows that of the 1000+ interviewed, a third were strongly in favour of assisted suicide being permitted under certain conditions, while a third were more or less in favour. Only 7% were strongly opposed, while 12% were unsure. But I digress.

The shift in thinking I’m talking about is one of language.

Until now – in English at least – we’ve used the term commit suicide. It’s – in some ways – a pejorative term. Other examples include commit murder, commit perjury, commit adultery … The inference being that to commit the act willfully, is to do something wrong. It is usually akin to breaking the law, though not necessarily. We might, e.g. commit a blunder.

The other side of the coin is where we use the word commit in a more positive sense. We commit to something: to a relationship, to marriage, to finishing a task. Grammatically speaking the structures aren’t the same of course, but the key word commit remains the same.

In recent decades, at least in the west, there has been a shift towards a greater understanding of mental health issues. That’s lead some to the conclusion that the term “commit” in relation to suicide is – at best – unhelpful and insensitive.

I’m ill at ease with the direction this is going. I’m not entirely sure why. I’m from a background and persuasion that suicide is always a choice, while at the same time recognising that at the time of suicide a person almost certainly is ‘unhinged’ or ‘temporarily insane’ and somewhere on the edge of the mental illness spectrum. I’m talking here of intentional suicide, whether that suicide is effected by taking a gun to one’s head, throwing oneself in front of a train or vehicle or from a bridge or high tower, or quietly taking too many pills in a darkened room. And I’m also not sure how my thinking -and language – shifts  (or should be adjusted) when talking about assisted suicide in the face of incurable, inoperable, life-draining illness.

I knew two people who, in the past few years, chose suicide for themselves. Both violently took their own lives. In both cases those who were left behind went through a hell of their own: loss, shame, false guilt, indescribable sadness. Would changing our language help them? I’m not sure it would. What do you think, I wonder.

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Serve one another : boundaries

Setting boundaries is always necessary, but it isn’t always easy. It’s part of our defining outselves as ‘me’ as when as infants we slowly distinguish ourselves from our mother, father and siblings. As we grow older we do it again as we take on our own identity and personality within our families and peer groups. It’s natural. It’s part of growing up. But as I’ve already said it isn’t always easy.

So much is written about marriage and partnership. That is a time when new boundaries are set. When two become one – sort of – but it’s not a case of one person being absorbed and consumed by the other – or it shouldn’t be – but rather of two individuals choosing to seek – together- the best way forward for them as a couple. Communication and boundary setting remain important. 

Is it the same with friends – good friends? Certainly there is the sharing of life and experiences, and that also invokes the need to set healthy boundaries. “What is mine is yours” is a good way to share life, but it’s not akin to “I am you, you are me!” We are individuals, with unique personalities, hopes and dreams. We are called to nurture one another, to help create environments that foster growth and personal transformation, but we are not called to be become one another, rather to serve one another.

Perhaps one of the most important life-giving ways we do this is by holding a mirror for the other, allowing the other to discover who they really are.

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