Monday, 30 November 2009

NaBloPoMo

So I have spent a month blogging, and I loved it. I have had the opportunity to share a sermon (voice file and text), what I think about bookselling (and retail in general), reviews of a book, an exhibition and a gig. I've also learned that liveblogging is a bad idea (it's more like word vomit!).

It's been a lot of fun but I think from now on I'll stick to what I do best, and just blog when I have something to say. And the world breathes a sigh of relief!

The launch of Living it Out

Today, Living it Out launched in a church in Islington. Sarah and Rachel (the couple who authored the book) arranged with their publishers a lovely 'do', attended by a number of the contributors, friends and family.

I was surprised at how moved I was by the event, particularly the readings from the book (which I've not read yet); by how much hurt there is and yet also how much grace and simple truth there is to speak.

Being a gay Christian (or a lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, polyamorous, asexual, curious Christian) is about so much more than "The Debate". We're living it, and I'm so privileged to have been given the opportunity to share that.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

On mistakes

I've made a few mistakes this week. That's nothing unusual, I do make many more than a few mistakes most weeks. I have tried to apologise to the people that I have hurt, but I think I have overstepped the line. All I can do now is sit back and pray.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Living it Out

I finally held a copy of Living it Out in my hands today! It arrived at my workplace yesterday and I was just so excited. Ignore that Waterstone's don't think it's published yet, it definitely is available.

If you're planning to buy the book, it would be great if you could do it from a shop; persuade your local bookshop to keep a copy in. We need people to be able to see this book on shelves in mainstream shops. We need people to see that it is possible to be L/G/B and Christian, and that there are people out there just like them.

On that note, please request it from Christian bookshops; let them know that we are waiting for people to sit up and listen!

Congratulations particularly to Sarah and Rachel Hagger-Holt, this is a tremendous thrill and could really change some lives. Congratulations also to the other contributors including LilWatcherGirl and My Wife.

www.livingitout.com

The power of a well-timed word

The right person said the right thing at the right time today. Twice. I love my friends, they give me the strength to get up in the morning.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Role models

Once again, this was sparked by someone else's musings. This morning, a friend I follow on Twitter was looking for people's role models in order to find pictures for a presentation. I had a quick scan through the replies, and there were some interesting suggestions. Graham Coxon, "my mum" (lots of people's mums, not everyone looking up to my mum) and apparently she eventually settled for her own role model, the brilliant Ellen DeGeneres (incidentally, check out Ellen dancing with Barack Obama).

I originally came up with two people; a very dear friend who is pastor of the Big Easy Metropolitan Community Church of Greater New Orleans, and then for the sake of having someone famous, Mr. Stephen Fry.

The reason I came up with Stephen Fry is perhaps obvious to you. When I read Moab is my Washpot, I was struck by a number of things. Firstly, that he has a very clear and direct outlook on life that is actually pretty refreshing, secondly that he has a security about his sexuality that I admire deeply and that I feel we don't see very much even in this age of supposed freedom, and finally that he is able to accept and acknowledge his mental health difficulties as a part of him without making excuses or pretending he is anything other than who he is. That sort of security in one's identity is brilliant and hard to find in people. It is something I aspire to, and the reason I count him as a role model. Of course, the fact he is a classicist and brilliant general knowledge buff, and a very funny individual are all part of that, too.

But then there are all the other people who've touched my life. In no particutlar order:
  • My whole family, my brilliantly talented sister, mum and dad, Granny Prue and Grandpa who had so much faith in God, G&G who have taught me what family is, and my fabulously diverse cousins, who are the smartest people I know; 
  • my friends - every single one of them - who have held my hands, prayed with me, let me cry and given me much-needed cuddles and kisses;
  • the people who have shared my living space graciously and given me someone to come home to;
  • the woman I shared my life with for two years, who will always hold a special place in my heart and taught me a lot about sincerity;
  • 'My Wife', who shows more maturity and courage at 18 than I think I have ever had;
  • the teachers who took the time to look out for me, who supervised school trips, or who are the reason I have such a passion for learning;
  • the wonderful conductor of the first wind band I played in, who was the first person to give me faith in my musical ability; 
  • my flute and piano teacher, who deserves to be canonised; 
  • everyone who has ministered to me, lay and ordained, and prayed for me and given me time and space;
  • girl at school who kept in touch with me when she left the sixth form (even though I was only a year seven), told me it was ok to be gay, and gave me some self-belief; 
  • the administrator of my academic department at university, who kept me at university through the worst of times;
  • the former presidents of UCLU LGB Society who took me under their wings and showed me what it means to achieve things for other people; 
  • the sabbs who came before me and the ones who are doing the job now; 
  • everyone who has had a kind word or a smile for me when I was low.
I love you all. Each of us has the power to make a difference in someone's life, and the best we can aspire to is to make a positive difference in someone's life. I wouldn't be who I was if it weren't for you all. If I can do justice to your influence on my life I will consider that I have been greatly blessed.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Transgender Day of Remembrance and National Anti-Bullying Week

This reflection was published in the newsletter of MCC North London on Thursday, 26th November 2009

On Saturday, it was the tenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Every 20th November we gather as a community to remember the trans men and women who have died as victims of hate crime.

Hate crime takes a number of forms. In its most extreme, it leads to murder. The murder of Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square, or David Morley on the Embankment, or the brutal and unnecessary deaths at the Admiral Duncan pub ten years ago. But there are other things that happen that are dismissed. The people who call us names in the street, who make assumptions about others' gender identities and discriminate against them for it, even the people who were bullies at school. This is all hate crime, and it is all damaging.

When people die as a result of hate crime, it is not always because they are physically beaten by their persecutors. These mental beatings take their toll. It is estimated that 50% of young trans people attempt suicide at least once. In the LGBT community as a whole, rates of depression, self-harm and addiction are higher than in the general population. This is not a coincidence, nor is it because we are naturally disordered. It is because we face such discrimination on a daily basis.

And in that spirit, we should also remember the victims of bullying. It is anti-bullying week and we know that the victims of bullying today may be the suicide victims we are remembering tomorrow. A single act of bullying can be so devastating to a young person as to lead to all sorts of mental health and emotional problems later in life. Bullying is not normal, it is not a rite of passage, it is a devastating and life-changing thing to happen to someone. Sustained over a course of years it can destroy self-esteem and erode hope in someone's life.

The bullies will also suffer, those who torment others doubtless suffer countless torments themselves. The young woman of 18 who has been charged with the murder of Ian Baynham will never get her life back. She will forever be marked as "different" and probably even as "bad". Her life has been destroyed because she was never taught that it is wrong to persecute those who are different.

So this week, as well as praying for victims of transphobic hate crime and all forms of bullying, let us think about what we can do to make the world a better place. Report it when someone assaults you in the street, refuse to accept that "it's just a part of life". Do not let hate-speak go unchallenged, have the courage to correct people who make ignorant and hurtful remarks about what they cannot possibly understand. If you are in a position to do so, share your own story with a young person who will be given strength from it; maybe even write to your old school and tell them about your experiences. A few acts of harm can destroy a life, a few careful acts of kindness may rebuild someone.

We are all one body of Christ; it's time to look after each other.

Monday, 23 November 2009

We had church

As Delores Berry would say, tonight we had church!

There was so much power in the worship, people were really letting go and singing like they meant it. The worship leader spoke powerfully on her transformative experiences in the last few months, the intern who preached gave a wonderful message on Christ the King, and the crown of forgiveness Christ empowers us to wear. I felt, for the first time celebrating communion, able to fully understand what a blessing it is to be allowed to serve the congregation in that way. I left feeling elated. There was a joy and peace in my heart that reminded me what it is to know the grace and love of Christ.

May you all know that love in your lives.

Review: Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler at the British Museum

Today, I renewed my membership to the British Museum and went with two very dear friends to see the new exhibition on Moctezuma. I was a bit unsure about it, since I literally know nothing about Aztec culture and I was worried I'd come out feeling stupid and dazed.

But of course, as usual, I thoroughly underestimated the BM. In reality, even without a catalogue or an audio guide I got round easily. I spent 2 hours just marvelling at the incredible skill of the Mexica (the more correct name for the people of Moctezuma II's empire) craftspeople. Everything was so detailed and beautiful; each tile on the mosaic work was only a couple of mm squared and yet they were perfectly tesserated and the colour variations are perfect. I was reminded that this same demonstration of skill was what drew me into Roman art back in the second year of my degree.

The alien-ness, if such a word exists, was striking here. It felt truly 'barbarian' and other. The gorgeous sandstone eagle near the entrance of the exhibition was the first thing to draw my eye. I was concentrating on the shapes, the chisel marks, the materials used in its creation for a good few minutes. Eventually I glanced down at the label and noticed for the first time the hollow in the eagle's square back. This, apparently, was for the offered hearts of human sacrifices. My own heart skipped a beat. From then on, I couldn't look at anything in the exhibition without remembering how different life was. That stone eagle gave me a context within which to view the story of Moctezuma II.

And I believe this was deliberate on the part of the curators, the journey through the exhibition was not a geographical one (although the empire ruled over by this last native ruler was a large one), but a journey that used themes to pass chronologically through the life of Moctezuma and his court. Everything to me was new and exciting, even those things that should have been familiar from earlier study. I know obsidian has been used as a mirror but I had never before taken the opportunity to look at my image in the highly-polished stone. I did not realise how eerie the reflection is, how it makes your own face alien and those of others seem like ghosts. I never fully understood the power of an art that is so stylised, nothing is real. There are no 'realistic' images of Moctezuma because all was idealised. Like the Greek art I'm familiar with, there are forms and shames that represent attributes and status. We don't know what Moctezuma appeared as to his people - he was god-like and therefore physically ideal, however he really looked. He presented himself using his name-glyph, the royal diadem and highly decorated ear scroll meaning emperor, just as Julius took the epithet Caesar.

With classic post-colonial guilt, I truly wish that Cortés had learned from Moctezuma, instead of destroying the culture. The things we have lost through the Spanish destruction of artefacts and codices is more than equivalent to the loss of the library at Alexandria. What we know now is piecemeal, from the remaining artefacts still being recovered from temples in Mexico City, but the BM have done a fine job in making it comprehensible.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

I am breaking up with Old Rosie

I'm serious, it's over. I wake up with a different person every time I've been with her the night before. Consider this hangover my last for a long time; I embarrassed myself, ruined a lovely pair of shoes and have massive gaps in my memory.

We've had some fun times, Old Rosie, but it's over now. I love you; it's time to let you go...

(On the plus side, apparently I stopped a Co-Op on the way home and bought Capri Sun and cookies. Time for breakfast!)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Review: The Decemberists at the Coronet

The Decemberists
The Coronet, Elephant and Castle
Thursday 19th November 2009 

This was one of the best gigs I've been to in a long while. We arrived in time to catch half of Emmy the Great's set, which was really excellent. She has a gorgeous voice, and the songs are lovely. I'd happily listen to her to chill out of an evening.

The Decemberists first played through Hazards of Love as a suite. Only five or six musicians (I didn't actually count), but playing so many instruments and swapping in and out didn't interrupt the flow of the album. It was incredibly powerful, although it was musically not different to the album, it had a very different feeling. I was all shivery and cheerful at the end.

And just to make it even more exciting, they came back! Highlights of the second half were definitely 16 Military Wives and the finale, The Mariner's Revenge. Particularly as someone had been chucking an inflatable killer whale around which was confiscated by the band until the point at which it was required to eat a few sailors!

The conversation in the second half was witty, the audience were possibly the politest and most tuneful I have ever seen at a gig and I loved it. You definitely must see the Decemberists at least once in your lifetimes.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Recipe: My bean tacos (v)

To serve 3 hungry people or 4 if you've had starters. I make it differently all the time but this is how I made tonight's (with help from Mark, master taster) and it turned out nicely.

Takes about half an hour to cook (an hour if you've got it). Best served immediately, piping hot. As with most chili dishes, it is also excellent reheated the next day.

The basis of this recipe came from Boy Housemate, so all thanks and lip-smacking noises in his direction. 

Ingredients:
1 can each of kidney beans, black eyed beans and borlotti beans
1 can of chopped tomatoes
Schwarzkopf fajita spice mix (about 1/3 jar)
1 onion
1 red bell pepper
1-2 cloves of garlic
Tsp-ish of smoked paprika
Juice of 1 lime
Splash of red wine

To serve:
12 taco shells (or tortilla wraps)
Lettuce
Liberal helpings of cheese (grated)
Salsa
Guacamole
Soured cream (or vegan soft cheese if preferred)
  1. Fry the onion and pepper in vegetable oil and some spice mix until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the tomatoes, all three tins of beans (drained) and more spices and half the lime juice.
  3. Stir thoroughly whilst the remaining liquid cooks off, then add a splash of wine, the lime juice and paprika.
  4. Cook the taco shells as instructed, continuing to cook the bean mixture over a low heat until mushy and without a separate liquid component, stirring constantly. During this time, taste and add more spices if necessary.
  5. When they are cooked, stuff the tacos with the bean mixture, cheese, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc. to taste. 
  6. Share with friends.

What I remember about being a kid

...is laughing. Until the age of about 5 or 6 when I moved to a new school and started being bullied, all my memories are of people laughing and smiling.

I just found a photograph of me, my sister and some friends aged about 4, when we still lived in Ealing, eating ice cream and giggling. I feel like life will never be that straightforward again but thank God that I still have friends who are happy to eat ice cream and giggle with me.


I'm on the far right. That is not a political statement.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The opposite of entropy

I have several wonderful, very wise friends. One of them, who's particularly brilliant, posted this on Facebook in the small hours of Sunday morning;
How about the theory that entropy has an equivalent and opposite force?... what if that force was love. Love is God. God is order. Entropy is chaos.
Yes, ok, so there's lots to pick at that argument... But I'm intrigued by what people might say...
Essay question set... now class... Discuss!

This was my initial response;
I think there's plenty of room for love in chaos. Love is dangerous; even love for God puts us at a certain risk in this world and even faith is chaotic and subject always to several forces at once.

This is a poorly-formed thought I realise, but it's a gut reaction. May think more about that..

(Incidentally, not being a scientist, my understanding of entropy is based on social entropy, not thermodynamics.)

So I have indeed been giving it some more thought. And I have also been listening to Sex God, written and read by Rob Bell. Turns out Rob Bell is completely brilliant; I love the way he expresses his ideas. There is one chapter in which he talks about Animals and Angels and the way in which we as human beings sit between animals - he sees animals as all body and no soul - and angels - all soul and no body. We are neither, we are the result of neither reflecting the image of God correctly. So he then talks about how clearly it is expressed in the creation poem in Genesis 1 that we were made after the animals in in God's own image:
 24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
 27 So God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       male and female he created them.

Only humans were created in God's image - all genders created in the image of God. And there is a progression in the creation poem of Genesis 1, according to Rob Bell, from chaos into order. From God's spirit moving over the waters of chaos to the order and peace of Eden. The lines only become blurred, in this narrative, through human action. Through deliberate rejection of God. And, that being so, we begin to descend back into chaos.

So what do we call chaos? For that matter, what do we call love? Chaos is created through heirarchy, through viewing each other not just as distinct but as having different worths. To see oneself as greater or lesser than another contributes to chaos in the social order. I suppose, in some ways, it is an animal part of ourselves. The idea that there must always be an "Alpha", a dominant personality. Try as we might to suppress this with democracy and systems and order, perhaps we just enhance a chaos that is born out of the rejection of God that makes it so hard for us to truly love and respect one another. Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate anarchy, but in an ideal world there would be no need for the systems we find so necessary today.

And if that is the case because we do not know how to love one another then, yes, perhaps the opposite of entropy / chaos truly is love. For true love is perhaps the least chaotic thing that there is. It confuses our animal natures, because it is so deeply spiritual, and it confuses our angel natures because it is so physical, but that is not chaos. That is how we were created to be, as God is, existing between the physical and the spiritual. It is our nature, our now imperfect nature, that fails to realise what a great thing we have going on, that rejects it and calls the feelings that go with love 'chaotic'. In fact, they are perfect. They are what we, in God's image, were created for.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Doctor Who "live" blog: The Waters of Mars

So I'm watching the Doctor Who special and decided to have an attempt at Live Blogging. However, I'm watching it on iPlayer (with Girl Housemate), so it's not really live.

00.01 - Oooh video links. Weepy moment already...
00.30 - I don't like the Doctor arriving on his own, it's weird. Although, very retro orange suit.
02.33 - It looks like the Eden project.
02.36 - Is that Wall.E's long-lost cousin?
03.25 - "The Doctor. Doctor. Fun." Who's writing this? I'm loving the dialogue so far. Bowie Base One particularly good.
04.21 - Does it have to keep.... Oh. The Doctor just said that.
05.49 - The trailer spoiled this bit. Damn, shouldn't have watched it.
06.19 - Who's the aussie actor again?
08.00 - It's a bit like the Fires of Pompeii, but without the world history bit.
08.51 - The doctor just saluted. Huh.
09.38 - DEATH AND DESTRUCTION. The Doctor's back!
11.25 - Here's the sob back story, putting the apocalypse into post-acopalyptic.
14.06 - "Sounds like me; the maintenance man of the universe." Awesome.
17.02 - "We should like that world."
18.45 - Zombies. Want. Braaaaaaaiiiiiiins.
19.16 - Not zombies, then. Zombies don't run.*
20.00 - Housemate. "She looks like she's in Thriller!"
22.06 - It's gone a bit Runaway Bride. And I miss Donna.
23.08 - "Water always wins." I'm now thirsty but a bit too scared to get a glass of water.
27.53 - Oh she's mad now...
26.33 - That was Martian for, "Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom"
30.11 - Odd to be continuing the Journey's End storyline, isn't it? Are they setting up bringing assistants or Daleks back (again) for the Christmas special? I much prefer new villains and dangers to the old enemies.
33.36 - "One day a Brooke will even fall in love with a Taledonian prince, and that's the start of a whole new species!"
34.40 - They're not dying of water; what is going to kill them?
35.10 - It wouldn't be Doctor Who with bikes, though, they have to run.
35.35 - The Doctor has a theory - I can see it in his gorgeous furrowed brow.
36.47 - What is the gorgeous blonde's accent supposed to be? (Housemate says German. Figures.)
38.00 - Even the music is sounding like Donna's theme. I still miss Donna.
39.00 - Why is the Doctor's access denied? He's never denied anything. He's the Doctor!
39.32 - He loves her? Is this hyperbole or another River Song? Ahh, see now even he's referencing The Fires of Pompeii.
40.16 - Accent update: Housemate now says Serbian.
41.16 - Not sure how I'd feel about finding out the day I die. I don't even like having a cold. (This just ruined a perfectly good moment of catharsis as my housemate giggled over my shoulder. Whoops.)
42:54 - This is making me very thirsty and a little hydrophobic. Maybe I'll have a Capri Sun, they're probably hermetically sealed.
44.17 - Ah, he is a vision in orange.
44.38 - Steffi update (this is the blonde crewmember's name); the video of her family shows them talking German. Also, she's less pretty as a water zombie.
46.56 - Oh, vaguely familiar Aussie down. Without even becoming a zombie, poor bloke. Horrible look in his eyes at the last minute, too.
47.50 - Apparently he was a water zombie. Hence the eyes. Observation fail.
48.17 - Not sure why they're playing the Gallifrey theme and doing the Last of the Time Lords thing again. Are they bringing the Master back for Christmas? The music has gone all Utopia / Sound of Drums. (Is it too much that I can recognise themes?)


Last of the Time Lords is "a vision in orange." Screenshot from the Waters of Mars.

49.26 - What's the knocking four times thing? Was not a fan of the last special so not familiar with it. Did I miss something?
49.54 - "The laws of time are mine - AND THEY WILL OBEY ME!" (He's quite hot when he's angry at the space-time continuum.) "We're fighting time itself - AND I'M GONNA WIN!"
50.50 - "Molto bene". Of course.
51.19 - I will be saying, "Gadget, gadget" to everything for a long time now. Because deep down I'm still an irritating, small child.
52.40 - Tai chi for zombies?
53.15 - Are they going to keep Gadget as the new K9? Hope not, he's cute enough for 1 episode but could get well annoying...
54.10 - What? Argh! What happened?! TELL MEEEEE.
54.27 - I'm guessing it's not real snow, a la Voyage of the Damned. Self-referencing, Doctor Who, it's getting a bit much...
55.30 - Oh, it is real snow.
56.41 - He's going to take them back, right? Oooh, dunno. He's gone all "tough". And is being a bit of a knob, to be quite honest. Not sure I'd shag him any more. (Housemate still would. There's a power thing going on I think. All very Freudian.)
58.07 - He's acting like the Master. Scary stuff.
58.43 - She killed herself. Shit. Has that knocked some sense into him? Apparently it preserved the history of the human race; maybe history is still stronger than the Doctor.
59.55 - Housemate: "Where'd he get an Ood from?" Also, since when was Death an Ood?
1:01.7 - I TOLD YOU Donna would be back. And the Master - I am just too good. What will the Master be like if he's not John Simm, though? I loved John Simm's Master. *I can't decide, whether you should live or die...*


Verdict: The best special since the end of S4. Didn't rate Christmas so much last year, and was almost unimpressed with Easter. But that was just too awesome for words. Even if I did spend the whole thing obsessing about clues and story arcs (I've not seen any Christmas spoilers and don't want to, ta). Housemate was not so keen, mostly because of Mean Doctor. But hopefully Mean Doctor was a short-lived thing, because I didn't like him either.


Also, reading back my stream-of-consciousness blogging I believe I might be completely barking mad. Apparently you should know that by now (thanks for nothing, housemate)...

*Except in Dead Set.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Orlando

I've just finished listening to Virginia Woolf's Orlando and I'm now unsure as to how I got to be 23 without it. It's a stunning book, much richer than anything I had expected. At once fantastic and somehow believable, and a fascinating commentary on the many facets (over 2,000?) of human nature and the strangeness of trying to commit and identity to the page.

If you have not read it, do so right away. I think this book will haunt me for a long time.

Also, I found out that I share a birthday with Virginia Woolf, and that has to make me pretty awesome, right?

Paraskevidekatriaphobia

This is just to let you know that I survived Friday 13th intact. I'm not someone particularly affected by paraskevidekatriaphobia (quick Greek lesson: Paraskevē (Παρασκευή) - Friday, dekatreís (δεκατρείς) -13), but there's always a small thrill in something being riskier than usual. I'm the sort of person who always walks under ladders, partly to prove that it's not bad luck and partly to tempt fate. So I suppose I'm a bit disappointed that I wasn't afflicted by any comical misfortune to regale you with. On the whole, though, surviving another day intact has got to be a blessing, right?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Why I'm (still) a bookseller

So, 2 days ago, I blogged a response to an article in the Guardian, and defended modern bookselling but there is definitely more to it than I was able to get to yesterday. There was one thing that continued to bother me, and that was this comment by Nicholas Spice who runs the (frankly excellent) London Review Bookshop:
Because once companies get big they draw in business management that doesn't have any sensitivity to the product. That's certainly the case with Waterstone's: the books knowledge of the people who run it is relatively small. Staff aren't paid well, so turnover is high and knowledge of what they're selling falls.

Granted, running an independent bookstore surrounded by Blackwell's, Waterstone's and Foyle's (independent, but increasingly chain-ish) must be tough but I do think that criticism of the staff is unfair. The booksellers I work with - at a large bookshop in C. London, in one of the academic departments - are committed and passionate people, many of them are educated to postgraduate level, and usually are placed in a department where they can genuinely demonstrate an enthusiasm for the books.

I'm not someone for whom retail was an obvious choice of job. I'm not a big shopper by nature, but I've always loved bookshops. Every time I walk into one I feel like Orlando discovering her first book shop in London. "Send me everything of any importance!" I want to cry to the nearest bookseller. Instead, I wander the store looking for handwritten recommendations, listening to what the staff are recommending to other customers, watching other people's reading habits. I have discovered some brilliant books in unsual places. I read The Colour Purple because a woman browsing Jeanette Winterson titles was carrying it in her other hand, and it was a customer recommendation that introduced me to Mark Thomas (a few years ago, after I commented that The Men who Stare at Goats was an excellent choice). Other books that have turned out to be brilliant, I've picked up for a few pounds in bargain bookshops or as additional choices in a 3 for 2 offer. Agent Zigzag turned out to be the most thrilling book I'd read for a long time, Graham Norton's autobiography was surprisingly poignant and I even enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada. So I've become more open-minded about what I will read. I no longer dismiss military history, celebrity biography or chick-lit, bookselling has actually broadened my mind. In turn, I am a better bookseller because I'm not afraid to tell people what I've enjoyed. I've recovered from the snobbery that held me back from recommending popular titles (the extraordinary delusion that popular must mean badly-written or under-researched, there doesn't need to be any dumbing down involved in making non-fiction accessible).

I'm a bookseller because I can't live without books and I love making them available to other people. I'm a bookseller because I'm the sort of person who buys a second copy of a book I've enjoyed so I can lend one out risk-free. I'm a bookseller because I believe everyone should have access to what they enjoy reading, and because I've learned so much from the customers I've met over the years. So we're not antiquarians any more - so what? We love what we do. So next time you're in a book shop, ask for a recommendation. You may learn something...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance

In silence, at 11am, we will remember those who have died in wars across the world. I will be thinking of the families who have lost loved ones since November 11th last year.

In particular, having visited Israel and Palestine in December 2008, I will be thinking of the people suffering in that conflict zone. I will be thinking of the people in Sderot, who daily are shelled between twice (in peacetime) and sixty times (in times of conflict). I will be thinking of the people who endured horrific wounds, or died, with the illegal use of white phosphoros in Palestine in the most recent conflict. I will be thinking of the people I met who lost loved ones in suicide attacks during the last antifada, or whose lives have been destroyed by borders and curfews. I will be praying for those who believe war is the answer, and those who work for peace.

Pray for peace around the world. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.



"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" - the close of a light show at the Tower of David, Jerusalem
December 2008





How bookselling changed the nation

I am a bookseller, and have been off-and-on since April 2005, and I have a confession to make - I love it. So when I got into work yesterday, the whole place was buzzing about this article from yesterday's G2.

I've read the article, and I think that Stuart Jeffries perhaps has made some valid points. It is true, for example, that the book industry has changed since more unusual retailers joined the throng. Even before Amazon - on which more later - the supermarkets branched into bookselling, and it's easy to forget that WHSmith used to be a stationery shop. This was the beginning, as I see it, of the age of mass-market paperbacks. As retailers got into a price war, the face of bookselling began to change. I remember going with my mum to Waterstone's in Ealing Broadway (in the early days after Waterstone's bought out Dillon's) on a semi-regular basis to see what was in the 3 for 2 offer. It became a highlight of the school holidays when we were able to get books to read on car journeys and on holiday.

As for the growing trend for coffee shops, that is also not necessarily a new or a bad thing. In 1998 the Times Higher Education Supplement published this article on the changing nature of campus bookshops. Again, some valid points are raised. 

I take the point that it would be lovely if we could all sit and browse books in the coffee shop, but surely it's obvious why that is not allowed? I love new books. I can't help it, I love the mint condition of them. I read books and barely even bend the spine. Of course, I have copies of old favourites that are well-loved (I have ruined more copies of Oranges are not the Only Fruit than I can count because they keep falling apart), but on the whole I like books to look neat. I detest the idea that someone could not only take away and read a book before buying it (they might break the spine!) but that they could even take it into a coffee shop (coffee! argh!). Just thinking about it makes me begin to hyperventilate. So I'm afraid I'm firmly on Waterstone's'* side there; the Borders in Charing Cross Road allows books into Starbucks and it's always full of books and magazines that are so used as to look second-hand. It's an odd decision for a retailer to make, and a nightmare for book lovers. If the only copy of a book is in that condition, I would rather cross the road to Foyle's, or even walk to Blackwell's or the nearest Waterstone's, than buy it.

And this leads me, inevitably, to Amazon, where the new books are always in good condition (the only coffee spillage likely will ruin your laptop, but the book is safe). There are no other customers, no booksellers to confuse you with additional offers, no loyalty schemes. It's just cheap. OK, so some of the other sellers are confusing but on the whole it's straightforward and it automatically offers recommendations. You can even shop naked. Not that I do.

I remember the advent of Amazon, of course. I remember jungle.com (was this Amazon's first incarnation?), and the way it revolutionised shopping. And, I admit, I love Amazon. I use it sometimes when I'm feeling pretty broke, and it's my go-to place for electronics. And with the advent of first MP3 players and now e-Readers (Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader) it does make sense to buy electronic books and music from the internet.

And what I love about this is the way our reading habits have changed. I work in a bookshop with an excellent range of academic books, and popular non-fiction. And with every promotion, I see more and more brilliant non-fiction being discounted and selling. Almost every academic bookshop in London sells Oxford University Press' Very Short Introductions for 3 for 2 at least once a year (I love these; if I had time I'd read them all). Authors like Tom Holland, Niall Ferguson and David Kynaston are increasingly popular and David Starkey, Simon Schama and Diarmaid MacCulloch are becoming household names thanks to their BBC history series over the past few years. Yes, Mitchell and Webb and Coleen Nolan will still sell well. After all, we still like a good nosey into someone else's life. But so too will the brilliant Wolf Hall and Christopher Andrew's fascinating history of MI5. Maybe Waterstone's has changed the bookselling industry for the cheaper, along with WHSmiths, the supermarkets and Amazon. Is this a bad thing, if it means we are reading more? We are buying and reading non-fiction at a much greater rate than ever before, and I think that's brilliant.

We're a nation of book lovers like never before, but despite all the new technology you'll never be able to beat going into a bookstore. Even though Amazon and Waterstone's offer preview chapters as PDF files, there's nothing like a good browse.

But - and I will end my small rant here, I promise - there is a limit. And I found the opening premise of the Guardian article slightly strange.

In the Bloomsbury branch of Waterstone's, I am trying to find a quiet seat to read Tacitus's account of Seneca's suicide

I would encourage browsing in a shop, always, and I think seating is a great thing in a bookshop. You need to be able to compare books before you commit to buying one, and I've picked up some great things that I never would have bought if the first chapter hadn't grabbed my attention when I was browsing. (The latest is Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail. Not my thing at all, but it turns out it's a great read.) But a bookshop is not a library. If you just want somewhere to sit and read something, Tacitus is available in any public library, or free online. But that notwithstanding, Mr. Jeffries clearly didn't look very far. I'm not sure about the lower floors but I do happen to know of a lovely, comfy armchair on the second floor, a window seat on the first floor and a sofa on the third. That particular bookshop is not starved of seating areas.

*Yes, I'm pretty sure that's the correct use of apostrophes.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Columbia beret

I've just cast on the Columbia Beret (here it is on Ravelry). No pics yet, still on the garter stitch brim, but very excited about having a lovely winter beret. Yum.

Sadly, my history with knit hats is not good; I keep losing them! I lost my Hannah in Manos silk blend (though think I have enough yarn to do a new one when I can bear it!) in T.K. Maxx at New St in Birmingham last November.



Then I lost my first Grace on the Victoria line between Pimlico and Euston in June as soon as I finished it! I  didn't even get a photo of it finished. Sob.



I just hope that somewhere they are being worn and keeping people warm. That's all a knitter needs.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Why I am wearing two poppies

I was privileged to be performing with London Gay Symphonic Winds this morning at St. Anne's church in Soho for their Remembrance Sunday service. The service was incredibly moving, and I was particularly struck by the presence of a number of cadets, and their involvement in the service.

The sermon by the rector, Fr. David Gilmore, was very thought-provoking. He talked at length about the need to respect and honour the memory of those who have died in the service of the British armed forces.

At the end of the day, I'm a pacifist. I can see little justification for war - genocide and crimes against humanity aside - and I will always pray for peace in times of conflict. I think violence against human beings is wrong, it defies the commandment to love one another as one loves oneself, and thus to love God. But then again, those who lay down their lives for the friends and neighbours they have never known must be honoured above all. The inherent contradiction in this has caused me no end of thought.

So, I wear a white poppy for peace. Peace is the ultimate goal, a true spiritual gift if we can attain it. Peace between people, between nations, the absence of violence against any person. Especially violence in the name of God. I believe anger can be justified, but for a human to perpetuate violence, one must be certain that it will be in the greater interest, that it will truly save lives.

But I wear a red poppy out of respect for those who have died in the name of their neighbours. They are honoured for their sacrifice, and their families are blessed for what they have given up.

Fireworks at Alexandra Palace

I take it back - I've just been to a display that has conquered my fear of fireworks. With my housemate and some other friends I went to the display at Alexandra Palace, overlooking London. The view was stunning, for a start, with fireworks appearing silently across town from Canary Wharf through Camden and North London. Although it was crowded, we found a perfect spot for viewing; not too far from the fireworks, not too full of people.

I'd forgotten how, when you are watching fireworks, they are all-consuming. Like you can't see or hear anything else, everyone around you is talking about the fireworks - oohing and aahing. I loved it. It's peaceful and beautiful and you can almost feel like you're the only person in the world.


Heart: Fireworks at Alexandra Palace
(c) JK Blacker, November 2009

Friday, 6 November 2009

Review: Depression as a Spiritual Journey


Depression as a Spiritual Journey
Stephanie Sorrell
O Books, 2009
ISBN: 9781846942235


This is not a book for light reading. I like to carry theology books with me, dip in and out of them during my tiring days at work and even to get some time out at church. However, it was apparent from the outset that I would have to devote some real time to getting to grips with Ms. Sorrell's work. The first chapter opens with some exercises in introspection, which are definitely worth engaging with whether you are reading this book to understand your own depression or to learn to recognise and engage with it in others.

The ideas presented in this book are not alien to me; I have spent many years wrestling with the apparent conflict between depression and faith in God before eventually concluding that I have had some periods of intense spiritual revelation through my depression that have enriched my life. However, presented as they are in a lively, logical and loving way, the reader is able to not just follow the theological and psychological arguements presented but almost relive their own journey and so to understand the journeys of others.

Stephanie Sorrell has drawn on case studies, those she has known who have suffered depression or watched others suffering, all forms of religious belief and analogy and also her experience in psychology (she has a master's degree in applied psychology). As someone who has suffered from depression herself, she is capable of genuine empathy and speaks the reality as she has seen and experienced it. The result is a carefully constructed analysis of the diversity of human experience, the reality of the illness lurking behind the clichés and the role of spirituality in discerning what healing is needed and learning from the darkness.

I will return to this book over and over in times of trouble, and I'm sure it will be a great source of support for others.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember, remember...

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot!
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot!
If I'm entirely honest, I hate bonfire night. I have always been a bit of a 'fraidy cat when it comes to explosives (call me boring), but it reached a peak when the vicar of a church I attended, Rev. David Hattersley, died during a school fireworks display. I wasn't there, but the grief and pain at church was palpable, and since then I've been very nervous of fireworks. I have had them thrown at me in the street, watched neighbours set them off at the entrance to my estate, visited people's gardens, etc. and I only feel safe watching from a few hundred metres away. Preferably even from the comfort of my balcony looking out over London.

No sage advice or deep reflection from me today, except to say to stay safe this weekend. Have fun! 

Overhearing conversations

Working in retail, I accidentally overhear a lot of conversations. In the age of mobile phones, I think we are much less discreet than we used to be. I know that, whilst I'm not quite Clive the Slightly-too-Loud Commuter, like everyone else I occasionally let something slip on a bus or train that I didn't intend to. But most of the time it's perfectly innocent things that just sound brilliant to passers-by.

My housemate came up with two brilliant ones, this was overheard on a bus by her gran:
Well, it'll never be any use to him, now. Not as a leg, anyway.

And her boyfriend's housemate told me the other day that he passed someone in the street saying,
She did have nitroglycerine, but it wasn't hers.

Ummm... does that make it ok?

And it makes me laugh when people mis-hear things I'm saying. Yesterday, we were stacking a new table and someone called through to me;
"Do we really have so many of The Noughties?"
"Yes, millions of the blasted things."

A customer just burst out laughing and looked at me.
"What on earth are millions of naughties?"

Or the other day, after I'd collapsed, someone asked me if I was ok.
Oh, I'm all right, just feeling a little queer.

A customer nearby burst out laughing and then looked a little embarassed. Made my day.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Who is this Kate person, anyway?

Day 3 of NaBloPoMo and it would not do to fall at such an early hurdle. As I said yesterday, part of the thinking behind doing the month was to get used to posting and work out what I should be doing with my blog. So, with that in mind, I thought perhaps I should start by explaining my perspective. It is true that we are all products of our upbringings and backgrounds, and I thought it might help if I explained mine to give some sense of my perspective. I do think this is especially important as a context for my sermons. Of course, what this is not is an excuse or a mitigation for any of my views. I make no apology for who I am.

Firstly, my life in brief. I was born in 1986 in Hammersmith, and lived in Ealing with my parents until 1990 (and my sister, after 1987). We moved then to Penn, a village between Beaconsfield and High Wycombe in South Bucks and I went to the local primary school. After that, since Bucks retains its grammar schools, I took the 11+ and went to a girls' high school for seven years. School was a bit tough, admittedly, I was bullied in primary school and that impacted on my experience of secondary school, but I have always loved learning and keeping busy so I filled my life with extra-curricular activities (extra Latin lessons, Greek club, orchestras, choirs, tutoring younger girls and running debating society) and mostly kept on top of things. I feel with hindsight that my schools were much more conservative than my family tend to be, and that this could have been one of the reasons I tended to struggle socially.

University was brilliant. I arrived in 2004 and immediately became involved in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) Society, which I ran for two years. I loved that, and have met some of my dearest friends through the LGBT socials. From there, I got involved in the students' union council, then the executive and after my degree I was the sabbatical officer for welfare. Student politics was invigorating and frustrating, but I loved being able to offer support from people, being involved in decisions that could make students' lives easier, and working with such a great group of people.

Academically, my degree was in Archaeology, Classics and Classical Art. I loved it and although I haven't worked as a professional archaeologist I still spend a lot of time keeping up-to-date with the discipline - particularly the archaeology of London and the Roman Empire. I wrote my dissertation on writing in Roman Britain because I'm particularly interested in social theory and the archaeology of everyday life.

The focus of my life these days is God. I became a Christian at the age of 15, still at high school, although I had been to various churches with friends when I was smaller and I went with my family when we lived in Ealing. I struggled for years to reconcile my sexuality with my spiritual life. I never felt called to celibacy, and I struggled with the fact that whilst my church seemed happy to accept that some teachings were irrelevant out of context (such as the teachings of St. Paul on hair and head coverings), others were not. I felt as though the teachings were targeting gay people almost as a scapegoat. To a certain extent, I still do. I do not (and I can't emphasise this enough) believe it was a conscious decision but I think it's a deep fear of the other that is still prevalent in many churches.

It was such a joy to me to find the Metropolitan Community Church of North London (part of the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches). To realise that LGBT people can be celebrated - not just tolerated - and that this does not mean disregarding the Bible, ignoring the problem of sin or refusing to talk about sex. In fact, the church is full of brilliant people whose paths to acceptance of their sexuality has been one of deep soul-searching and a lot of praying. We are a diverse people, and I love that. I've never felt so at home anywhere. I am just beginning the long process of ordination training in MCC, because I believe I'm called to be a part of that blessing, and that is a joy to me.

As for now, I'm working for a chain of bookstores. I love selling books and meeting people, I'm thoroughly enjoying my work and learning new things every day.

So that's my perspective. I'm a southern British, degree-educated Christian. My background in student politics and LGBT rights means I have a strong sense of social justice, and this is also a key part of my faith. How's that for a whistle-stop tour of my mind?

Monday, 2 November 2009

NaBloPoMo

So, with thanks to LilWatcherGirl for alerting me to this, I've decided to join in the fun of NaBloPoMo (that's National Blog Post Month). Inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which I am frankly not talented or motivated enough to do, the aim is to blog once a day for a month. Since I've rediscovered that I quite like having space to talk about whatever I like with no one to tell me to shut up, I'm going to give it a shot!

Still trying to work out what to blog about, too, so I'm hoping that a month of enforced writing will focus me on a few things that I find it interesting to muse about. It could be fun!

Audio file: Shema Yisrael

A recording made at MCC North London on Sunday, 1st November 2009.

Sermon title: Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel)
Preacher: Kate Rowley




No to Hate, Trafalgar Square, 30th October 2009
(c) Paul A. Brown 2009

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Shema Yisrael - Hear, O Israel


Preached at MCC North London, Camden Town, on Sunday 1st November 2009.

Ruth 1:1-18
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 
The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 
But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 
These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that God had considered the people and given them food. 
So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 
But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house. May God deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 
God grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 
They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." 
But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 
Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of God has turned against me." 
Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 
So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 
But Ruth said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 
Where you die, I will die-- there will I be buried. May God do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" 
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. 



Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"
Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Creator our God, theCreator is one; you shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'
The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'God is one, and besides God there is no other'; and 'to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbour as oneself,' --this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the Realm of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.



***


"Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die-- there will I be buried. May God do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!" 




These are the well-known words spoken by Ruth to her mother-in-law as she commits to joining her in her walk through life. Ruth, as we have heard, was a Moabite who married an Israelite man, Naomi’s son. When Naomi’s husband and sons die, she and her two daughters are left destitute. It is no exaggeration so say that widows were considered the least important people in Ancient Near Eastern society. Women’s purpose was as wives and mothers. Ruth and Naomi were no longer either. To add to that, Naomi was an outsider and knew that the right thing to do was to return to her homeland alone and live in Jerusalem amongst her people. Her two daughters-in-law respond very differently to this. After some initial objections, Orpah realises that it is sensible for her to return to Moab and she kisses Naomi goodbye and leaves. Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to hear of it. We are told that she “clings” to her mother-in-law. She will not be parted from someone she has come to love as part of her family. I honestly think that Ruth’s speech to Naomi is one of the most moving in the Old Testament. Think about what she was giving up in order to stay with her mother-in-law. Firstly, she had to leave the place she had grown up and been married, along with whatever family she had there. It was not common to travel, she had no idea what sort of land she was heading to, she took a chance to stay with someone she cared deeply about.


In the course of this life-changing decision she also acknowledges that she will make changes to her faith tradition. In the ancient near east there were many gods and traditions. There were many ways to worship each god. Even those who accepted Yahweh as God chose to worship in many different ways until the common acceptance and practice of Deuteronomical and Levitical law. The god worshipped by the Moabites was Chemosh, who Ruth turned her back on in order to embrace the God of Naomi’s people, the God we know as the one true God. This statement of faith and love is so profound that it continues to be used in wedding services across the world.


Ruth and Naomi committed their lives to each other. Ruth became known as “Naomi’s woman” when they were living together, and when Ruth was married to Boaz and had a child, that child was born not just to Ruth and Boaz but also to Naomi. The relationship they model is beautiful and profound. Whether it is a mother-daughter relationship, a romantic friendship or a sexual relationship honestly doesn’t matter to me. It is important to acknowledge that their relationship models so many types of love, that they had a profound affection for each other and lived as a family. It is important to acknowledge the possibility that they intentionally lived as a married couple. But this is not to say that Ruth and Naomi’s relationship validates LGBT relationships through history. This is not to say that our worth in relationship – friendly, sexual or romantic – comes entirely from Ruth and Naomi’s worth, from the fact that God blessed David and Jonathan or from the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. All of these people have been looked to by the LGBT faith community as powerful and positive role models, and they are. But they do not provide the validation for us. All that provides validation for who we are is God’s love for us and our love for the people of God. To put our faith in anything else, whether it is Biblical or not – is a form of idolatry. Your worth in God’s eyes is neither enhanced nor diminished by our ancestors.


Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel Adonai our God Adonai is one. Adonai is the Hebrew word for God that we often translate as Lord, but it has a suggestion of possession and relationship in it, it means “my ruler”. Jesus instructs his followers in tonight’s gospel reading that there is one commandment that is the first of all and it is this one. The second is to love your neighbour – and we know from other readings that that means everyone; there is no one on this earth who is not my neighbour. This love is the love that Ruth had for Naomi, a love that values yourself and others equally, a love that accepts the God of Israel as our God and the One true God, because we can only love God by loving and cherishing each other.


As a community, we stood together in a powerful display of love and faith on Friday night. As many of you will know, recorded instances of homophobic abuse and violence are rising year on year as other forms of hate crime are recorded less frequently. Whilst we hope and pray that this is due to the LGBT community having the courage to name our persecution, there is always a doubt in the backs of our minds. A month ago, on September 25th, a man named Ian Baynham was attacked by three young people. He was beaten so savagely that he was unable to survive and on the 13th October he died. A week ago, just over a month later, a young trainee policeman named James Parkes was attacked in Liverpool. He remains in a critical condition. On Friday night we gathered in Trafalgar Square to honour Ian, James, and the other victims of homophobic hate crime. David Morley, who survived the Soho nail bomb attack ten years ago and was then murdered on the Embankment; Jody Dubrowski whose only crime was to be openly gay; 18-year-old Michael Causer who was beaten at a house party in Merseyside. None of these people needed or deserved to die. Not one of them died out of the sight of God, who weeps to see people in pain. Not one of them was forgotten or forsaken. We love them, and the number of people who showed up to honour their memories is a testament to that.


“Love your neighbour as yourself, there is no commandment greater.”
Love your neighbour as yourself, as Ruth loved Naomi, as Christ loved his disciples and continues to love us. Who is my neighbour? The Good Samaritan – who rescued a Jewish man who’d been beaten up and abandoned by those who should have cared for them – is certainly my neighbour. What of the men who beat up the Jewish traveller? Well, they are my neighbours also, and although their actions came from a place of ignorance and hate I care for them. The young woman who attacked Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square is also my neighbour. We are called not just to love the martyrs, or the people who stick up for us, that is not enough. Ruth loved Naomi, a foreigner. The Good Samaritan cared for a Jew, his enemy. We must love those who have persecuted us. We bless them, we know that they are called by name by the same God who called and loved us. What they have done, what they have said, what the world has taught them to believe in hate, none of that is who they are. They are called beloved just as we are. God will forgive them their sins when he forgives us ours. There is nothing – nothing – that we can do to separate ourselves from the love of our one God.


There is a story in Judaism about a learned Rabbi – Rabbi Hillel – who was once approached by a gentile. This gentile said to him, “Rabbi, I will convert to Judism here and now if you can teach the Torah to me standing on one leg”. Hillel did this. He stood on one leg and said very clearly, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow”, then putting his leg back down and standing as usual he faced the man and said, “this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” As a community, we witness so much hate. From the antagonistic looks we get in the street to the people who call us dykes, poofs, queers and trannies. The people who spit at our feet and the people who use violence against us. The people who protest at Pride and the people who enter the parade to make trouble. They are mistaken, they are wrong, and we must correct them. And we correct them not with further violence, not with threats, not by suppressing their freedom to speak. We correct with love, we correct by living the gospel of Christ. To those who call us perverts, we show a pure love, the blessed love of our Biblical ancestors, and we remind them that the words of the marriage service are the words of one woman to another. We say that there is no fear in love, and that the first and greatest commandment is to love one another. We face them in love, proudly and boldly showing how we love our partners – whatever gender we and they are – and we embrace our persecutors. We stand facing them and say, we love you, you are our neighbours.


This is my challenge to you today; a challenge that comes from Jesus himself. Know your worth in God’s eyes. Know that it is not dependent on how the world sees you, it is not dependent on being able to find others like you who are loved by God, God, Adonai, Abba, loves you because you’re so special. You were created unique, every hair on your head and ridge in your fingerprint. Every mistake you have ever made is wiped out, every tear dried and every right move celebrated. When you hear the many names of God and bless them you are in turn blessed. You are called to then fulfil the second commandment Jesus gave and to pass that blessing on to others by showing them love. When someone calls you a name in the street, bless them. When someone tells you that something or other is “so gay”, correct them gently and lovingly as Christ would. Protest by all means – Christ would, Christ would not be letting his people suffer in silence – but never, ever forget to pray and to praise.
"You are not far from the Realm of God"
Truly, we are drawing near to God in this time of adversity. We are a people whose spirit will not be crushed, we are a people who refuse to be downtrodden. We are the army of God and we fight all forms of injustice. But we do not fight with the weapons used against us, instead we disarm and bring peace and love. That, truly, is our calling. That is what we must do to glorify God and in doing so we embody the love of Ruth and Naomi, we act out the commandments to love one another. When we do this and we are motivated by the love of God for all people, we are truly close to seeing the Realm of God.



Hear, all people, Adonai your God, Adonai is one. 
Alleluia! Amen.




No to Hate Crime vigil, Trafalgar Square, 30th October 2009
(c) Paul A. Brown