Category Archives: Religion

Why I Don't Think I'm As Feminist As All That

This is likely to be the most poorly expressed collection of thoughts I’ve ever written. Apart from a couple of my drunken journal entries. Those are excellent. But no, they’re not likely to ever make it up here, sorry.

Anyway. This is one of those few posts that has made it into my drafts folder. It’ll take the form of a disjointed kind of a list.

Firstly: rape jokes. I sort of feel like I ought to find them inappropriate because, you know, rape is a terrible, terrible thing, without any hint of non-seriousness there whatsoever and no, I mean it. But, for crying out loud: Dead Baby jokes. Madeleine McCann jokes. The Bunny Suicides. A hell of a lot of the sense of humour of (primarily young people and probably mainly students) revolves around some seriously terrible things. Perhaps this is how we process those things, perhaps it’s just that things are funny when they really shouldn’t be – why else would Jeff’s Giggle Loop be such an on-the-nail description of that kind of laughter you laugh when you’re at a funeral or your spouse is breaking up with you? We laugh at inappropriate, terrible things, perhaps because we’d otherwise cry, or perhaps they’d make us angry, or perhaps it wouldn’t, but we have to react in some way.

No, I’m not getting into the psychology of what makes us laugh. Bother that. If it’s OK to laugh at dead babies and Madeleine McCann and so on, then sure, if you think of something genuinely witty to say about rape, say it. If it’s not OK to laugh at rape jokes then dead babies and Madeleine McCann are out too, OK? Good.

Secondly: I like cooking, I like doing things for other people, I love it when you create something edible and it makes someone else happy, or you pass your plate over at a restaurant because the portions are, as ever, huge, and you get to watch someone you love slurp white wine sauce out of a mussel shell whilst looking as happy as Larry at you. I like knitting things, it’s only a matter of time before I do actually kidnap a small child (no, not really, I’m not utterly daft) and I hope to goodness that someday I get married and have children and don’t have to work so that I get to spend lots of time at home bringing them up. I get a bit gooey about little boys in school uniform or choirboy outfits or whatever and I’m already eyeing up the Hornby. I don’t think this is incompatible with the fact that I do want a really interesting research career first/later in life and I am quite independent and would like to do a number of things first.

Thirdly: I really would rather not walk home alone late at night. I know, technically, that if I was a Good Feminist I’d carry a rape alarm and learn how to poke someone’s eyes out with the heel of my DMs or something (not that I own DMs), but actually, I’d rather get a taxi, make someone walk me home, or be home before it gets late. I will walk home alone, and I’m not scared to do so, I just can’t help thinking that it isn’t a good idea.

Fourthly: Women’s magazines are full of airbrushed, long-legged beauties who look decades younger than they should and impossibly perfect. They wear clothes which are pedalled to us constantly, bags we must have in order to fit in. Personally I don’t tend to enjoy those magazines much – I get all the fashion I need from the various newspaper supplements in the Times or the Guardian, and I really don’t care about celebrities. Furthermore I think very few people actually are made to feel inadequate by the terrifyingly unattainable role models and examples set in these magazines. Perhaps one is as a teenager – I know it certainly angered me at the time that even in magazines aimed at teenage girls one is constantly told how to diet and all the rest of it when really we should be getting the message that, actually, you are who you are, and that is wonderful. But I don’t think anyone once they reach a certain age or level of maturity is made to feel inadequate by the frank mythologisation of womanhood in women’s magazines and basically everyone just enjoys them for what they are. I don’t think they’re massively damaging.

Fifthly, a slightly different point: the norm for women at this point in time is to shave their legs and their underarms and pluck their eyebrows and get rid of (I don’t know how, this isn’t a problem I have) any trace of a moustache. And so adverts telling us to buy razors and feel like goddesses obviously appear on television. Again, I don’t have a problem with this. I am happy to fit in with a cultural norm that dictates that I should either shave my legs or keep them out of sight. And I know there are a number of women who don’t want to shave their legs or remove their moustaches or whatever and they just bloomin’ well go for it. I don’t think adverts telling you that using a certain razor will make you feel like a goddess are saying you can’t feel like a goddess if you have hairy legs – that’s as odd a proposition from the advert in question as saying that using that razor will actually turn you into a goddess.

So, while in other countries women are denied education and many other basic rights, whilst in some places life is an awful lot harder if you are a women; whilst there are undeniably people who we may well encounter every day who think less of me because I am a woman than you, because you are man; whilst domestic violence and rape and things occur all the time and that is utterly terrible, I still wouldn’t say I was a capital-F Feminist. I can’t see what is wrong with the media  as it is commenting on the way Mrs Cameron dresses, say (heck, they also comment on the dress sense of Mr Cameron and all the rest), or telling me that I should use this razor to shave my legs. I think we are awfully lucky in the UK today to have the choice to be and dress and sleep with whoever we want, to be able to marry who we like and when we like and only if we like. I like dressing up and wearing lipstick and playing the role of a woman in society. I like being a woman, I like being a girl, I like being a lady, and conforming to those stereotypes. I like it when some of the men I know patronise me a bit for being a bit of a girl. I will laugh at rape jokes, I will shave my legs and feel like a goddess, I will stare in wonder at the new seasons capes and jersey dresses and boots and I don’t mind in the least that the vagaries of fashion want me to buy new things each season because, when I have the money, I like buying those things.

This is what I’m concluding: I am not a Feminist. I believe in equality and freedom for all people in all places and while I care that women get raped and are denied basic rights to education and divorce and the right not to be stoned for adultery after having slept with someone new after becoming a widow, I also care that men are fighting wars and battles and gunfights over who they are, who they believe in and the colour of their skin; that children are dying every day from a lack of clean drinking water; that it’s harder to get into a good university simply because you’ve grown up on a council estate and gone to a state school; that our economy is in real trouble and I do worry that Osbourne is cutting too much, too fast, and that that will spell trouble in the end. I am a feminist insomuch as I am also a childist and an andronist and an environmentalist. It should surely all come as part of a package – part of being a decent human being is, surely, caring about others, no matter what or who they are.

This post was originally meant as a lighthearted riposte to some shocking allegations thrown at me in the pub a week or so ago. Whoops.

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What I Like About The Future

I have no idea what’s going to happen. I have no idea, either, what I’m going to want, and whether what I want this time next year is going to be the same as what I want now or somehow entirely different. And so it doesn’t matter that I don’t know what’s going to happen, because I also don’t know how I’m going to feel about it, so I basically have to assume that whatever it is it’ll be fine; because even if you could tell me what’s going to happen, how I feel about it now and how I will actually feel about it could well be two entirely different things.

So actually, yes, it’s all OK. Even though sometimes I would like someone to drop out of the sky and whisper in my ear, tell me about my future, promise me it contains Nobel prizes and a real-life Daniel Craig/Mr Darcy hybrid and a car that drives like an Aston and runs on solar power or the breath of fairies or something. It’s not going to happen (the sky person thing, I mean, not the Aston thing, that’s a definite). I don’t know what’s around the corner and, if I’m honest, I’d rather not find out too soon. It’s like reading the last page of the novel when you’re still only just getting up to the dramatic bit. You really don’t want to spoil the ending or know about twists in the tail, they’ll surprise you soon enough.

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Twitterblogging III

Two people for whom I have more respect than I know how to put into words (really, I don’t) are getting married. In some ways I barely know either of them but, well, we follow one another’s fortunes and misfortunes and I can honestly say that their news has made me a very happy woman.

Now I’m going to go and swim in a millpond. A very good day, I think.

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Primark

I don’t really understand how anyone can shop there. Or ASDA, or Tesco, or wherever else, for their clothes. I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. You know they’re made in a sweatshop by blind five-year-olds with missing fingers doing a million-hour day for a pittance (I admit I may be exaggerating slightly). You all know it.

I’m not brilliant. I still buy clothes from M&S (which is, ethically, very nearly as bad as Primark etc) and H&M and so on. I do try where possible to buy things second-hand, but I will admit, I like shopping, I like new clothes, and if you’re looking for a well-fitting pair of jeans in the right shade of blue or whatever you’re more likely to find them on the highstreet than you are in your local vintage store, and until I’m a lot richer, I really can’t afford to buy basicsy highstreety stuff on a regular basis from fairtrade stores such as Ascension, much as I would love to do so. And yes, the other day, I did buy some socks from Primark. It was an emergency and I do feel guilty.

And as a Christian, where our faith is all about loving the Lord our God, and loving thy neighbour as much as thyself… how can you possibly treat your fellow man, by proxy, so badly? How can you call yourself a good Christian while you boast on your facebook profile about the suit you bought for some completely unbelievable sum from ‘Primarni’? While you actually boast about the cheapness of your clothes? Now, I’m all about good value. I’m not that kind of a snob, I’m not going to look down on you because you bought a cheap suit, but you have to look at those prices, think about the price of cloth and so on and think, hang on, surely getting a suit for under £50, shirt, shoes, tie and all, should be technically impossible? What’s going on here? Where is the money being cut from?’. You surely have to be suspicious of something that costs so little – you must realise that someone’s paying for that, and that someone is probably the poor woman who sewed the buttons on and doesn’t get paid or won’t be given work tomorrow if she doesn’t manage to make 20 suits in an hour or something.

It should be no more shocking that my Christian friends boast about Primarni than that my non-Christian friends do. I have always argued that atheists are as nice and have as much of a developed conscience as Christians – why would I argue otherwise? But somehow, when these days seemingly every church has a fair trade stall and a link to all kinds of fairtrade this, that and the other, when you’re looking at upstanding pillar-of-the-student-church-community types, it still brings me up short.

I want to interfere, but I don’t know that I know this guy well enough. Personally if I was interviewing a student for a job, I wouldn’t necessarily even expect them to own a suit. If I was employing a student, I would understand if they wore their old school trousers etc until their first pay packet. It’s not impossible. And for crying out loud I know full well that the Oxfam where I work has a lot of suits in at the minute. Honestly.

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Mad World

There are some strange things out there. That doesn’t mean all Christians are strange. But I think this is pretty strange, and this is even stranger, and if you need a good giggle, or just to raise your eye-brows in mild shock and consternation, or just the excuse to stop reading about mast cells, Major Histocompatibility Complex proteins, anything with weird greek letters in, or your packing list (yeah, you think your day was bad?), well, click on those links. You’ll get the idea pretty quickly.

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Church, Gender and Sexuality

Well there’s a title which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Anyway. Yesterday I went to a night hosted jointly by the LGBT society and SCM, the Student Christian Movement. There was stew and crumble and things and then there was a talk and discussion with Sarah Jones, the parish priest in Ross-on-Wye. Who, if you didn’t know, which to be fair you probably didn’t, used to be a man, and spent most of her twenties coming slowly to the realisation that actually, mentally, emotionally, she felt more like a woman. So she had a sex change before becoming ordained as a priest.

So for all sorts of reasons she had a lot to say. About coming to the realisation that she was transgendered (she asked us, ‘how do you know that you are the ‘right’ gender?’, pointing out that it’s a hard thing to think about, really, it’s not as simple as ‘just knowing’), about how people think transsexual and imagine some kind of panto-dame/drag-queen overly-made-up-and-coiffured caricature, when actually she was a perfectly ordinary, quite plainly dressed woman, with no make-up and sensible Ecco shoes.

She also talked about how her Bishop is quite conservative and yet was happy to see this as a medical problem; what he can’t get his head around is the fact that she is also gay, and this does then mean that she cannot whilst in this particular parish have a sexual relationship with another woman, because she would just lose her job, straight out, while in other parishes this might well be overlooked.

She praised the open-minded-ness of the Church of England – believers within the church of England really do fall on a massive spectrum between those who point accusingly at Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and those that say more forgiving things, quoting the story of the eunuch in Acts or the centurion and his friend/servant/lover in Matthew. It’s a church which can, with surprising ease, welcome those who believe (like me) that civil partnerships should be honoured in church and that gay marriage should be possible within the church of England and can’t really understand how you can make any other argument on that score, and can also welcome those who still believe that women shouldn’t be allowed to be priests and that homosexuality, let alone gay marriage, is a sin against God.

She talked also about being outed, about how one day the Daily Mail rang up seemingly out of the blue, and how she had rounds of press conferences to give and of course how then her whole parish knew and how they gradually came to terms with this, how it does now mean that literally everyone in her town knows and how in some ways the worst thing to bear is the children who have called her names in the past; but then she also talked about how she sat them down and gave them a good talking-to and how now when she passes them in the street they’ll cheerily call out, ‘morning, Vicar’, which I think is nice, because that’s a sentence I struggle to imagine any thirteen-year-old lout on a BMX uttering in most normal places, but then I guess Ross-on-Wye is probably a bit like the town where I grew up and that probably wouldn’t have surprised me too much there.

What I really liked about her was her absolute and utter honesty – she really was happy to talk about more or less anything that we wanted to ask her. Perhaps not the course she would have chosen in life – it’s like me having to spend the entire rest of my life with everyone knowing that I Used To Be Depressed, except more so – and you don’t really want that to be the defining feature that everyone knows about you – but I guess once that is why you are known, she has stood up to the plate and stood up for her cause and got on with it, and, well. I was inspired. I was really glad to have met her. And she made me realise that actually, if it annoys me so much that people make assumptions about me and about depression, then I bloody well need to step up and say so, rather than just…lying about it. Or rather, omitting the truth. I can’t carry on saying, when people ask me what year I’m in, ‘oh I was ill last year’ and leaving it at that. I always feel guilty when I do that but at the same time it does seem like sharing a bit too much (apparently I do have at least a shred of that English reserve, after all).

Anyway that’s definitely not what I came here to say. Also the food was delicious. Also I then went to the pub with some of the people who were at the talk, and then I went to meet up with the debating lot in the Union, and things got rapidly more insane from there until A and I left for chips. Oh, chips. How glorious. And then I went to bed at two and why-oh-why did I wake up at half past seven in the sodding morning? Bleh.

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I'm Going To Be Away All Weekend Again So…

…have some of the Notes I found on my phone.

Nine:

Rob says: “PESSAMIST: DIFFICULT IN EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

OPTOMIST: OPPORTUNITY IN EVERY DIFFICULTY”

(I love him but he can’t spell).

Six:

I wonder what of the music being made now will stand the test of time:? I have a theory that by and large the music that hits the charts now from less popular genres has broken through that particular barrier so maybe they will last?

(As you might have guessed the time stamp on this one is definitively the wee hours).

Eight:

I have actually developed a minor crush on that last guy becuase he takes photos of his pets and flowers :S !

Renegade Brass Band.

(talking to H at photosoc one night. Well, writing her a note, anyway).

Four:

Some kind of emotional dive bar I crank out the same feelings like cheap spirits or piss-weak beer in seedy profligacy. Discounts and doubling up so you get twice as much cliche for your cash and could drown your wretched face in the brine spilling from my eyes.

I imagine my heart skittering across a tiled marble floor – black and white, Italian, leaving a trail of shining scarlet blood, gappy, clotted, lumps and gouts and thin translucent trails between, and the toe of your shoe as you walk away, red on brown leather, pointed, shining.

(Jenny goes all emo ‘n’ ting).

Three:

‘Course you’re not, you’re not scared of anything. Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of box, man eats fish custard!’

(The first episode of the latest series of Doctor Who. As if you didn’t know).

Ten:

“…and every time we did it, it was destroying me inside…”. X’s testimony. Sex. Guilt. Oh, help.

Five:

Stressed is Desserts spelled backwards.

Seven:

Random Man At Bus Stop: What he’s looking at is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, yet he can’t quite believe it and however much he loves it it hurts his eyes as it – she? – and now (if I ever wasn’t) I am extrapolating wildly, from my mute seat here in this bus in the slowly waking springtime heart of the city – walks towards him. The end. The beginning. Chapter One.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one that makes up stories about the people I see waiting for buses/on trains/on other journeys?)

Two:

You are the person that I love most that I’ve ever met. Shofolk sandals, £125.

(No, I don’t know either. I think one’s a quote from what is quite unreasonably one of my favourite books, and one is, well, shoes).

The rest of my notes are excruciatingly dull, the end.

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I Had A Dream Last Night

Yes, I did. It was set in space. There was a fantastic vintage clothes shop, which did more hippy vintage and a quite a lot of English rose kind of floral tea-in-the-garden Edge of Love vintage dresses and stuff – i.e. my kind of thing entirely. That bit, I think, was on earth. Although the streets were sandy like you imagine them being in the American West and there was way too much sunshine and the shop was immense. And I was in there shopping with A and his friend who looked exactly like Bill Bailey except scaled down to about four feet tall. Weird. He honestly was like some kind of doll.

And then you appeared and whisked me off, leaving A behind, and me and you and H and M were on some kind of space shuttle number – it went so fast through all these tunnels and exploding out of the tunnels into space – but that’s when I realised it wasn’t really science fiction at all, it was just all the ordinary human dramas played out again, confusion and lies. Completely weird made-up human dramas, but human dramas. And then I had to slam on the brakes and woke up with a massive cramp in my leg. I have never had such a bad cramp in my legs. Sometimes a litle bit in my foot when I’m swimming, but this time, wow. Ow. And all I was doing was dreaming!

I hate my dreams.

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Seven Deadly Sins

I don’t know why I was thinking about this, but I was. Actually if you read the Wikipedia article on the subject it’s quite interesting. Everyone knows that these days the seven sins are: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. We rarely think what those really mean – it has only just struck me that before having read the article I wouldn’t have known how the Catholic church would define Gluttony as opposed to Greed – to me, on first reading, they mean roughly the same thing, but here gluttony is defined as ‘to constantly want but never to achieve gratification’, whilst greed is, ‘An inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs or deserves, especially with respect to the pursuit and accumulation of material wealth’, which are obviously two fairly different things.

Furthermore it is hard to see, sometimes, why these things are so ‘deadly’ in themselves, but then I suppose they could all lead one to commit the most terrible atrocities and crimes and to be in all ways a bad and unloving Christian.

What is interesting is that the list used to include more sins, until they were lumped together a bit more broadly; and one of the major biggies used to be acedia, which roughly translates as listlessness, depression without joy, an inability to be happy in the beautiful world created by God. There was a point, kids, at which depression was a deadly sin. Fail. Anyway, I thought that was interesting from a historical perspective – the way peoples’ attitudes and understandings of all kinds of things have changed over time.

Anyway, pride and gluttony and greed are still deadly, lust too, and anger, and sloth, and envy. I think my worst, personally, are pride and sloth (under which now falls the apathy and listlessness originally associated with acedia). Sloth because there are so many things I always say I’ll do – learn to drive, get a job, go running – and it takes me ages to get around to each of them. Last autumn I went through a few months where I did do those things – I joined the choir, went to orchestra every single week, rain or shine, joined the gym, went to early morning yoga and a whole host of fitness classes, hit the gym or the pool every few days and felt bad if I skipped a day on which I’d planned to exercise. I practically wallpapered the whole city with my CV (no joy, though), and did some solid long work days. And this term? Nope. I still go to yoga once a week, though not now I’m home, of course. I don’t make it to church as often as I mean to and I didn’t go swimming once between Christmas and breaking up for the holidays. My attendance at choir and orchestra has been a bit shoddy – if I realise I’m going to set off late and embarrass myself I tend to settle in for an evening on iPlayer or install myself in the pub and get on the whisky. I’ve been busy, sure, but doing things I always already did, doing loads of nice safe churchy stuff, rather than getting on with things that would really help me in the long term. Like that driving thing.

Anyway, that’s bad enough, but I think my major problem is Pride. Asking for help when I need it, admitting that I don’t feel so great about something, crying in front of people. I’m always convinced I’m right, that I’m cleverer than most of the people around me, and it’s taken me a while to accept that that isn’t by any means always true. I would have been Truly Brilliant at this, or that, or the other, if only I had bothered to work at it, if only such-and-such hadn’t occurred, if it wasn’t for this or the other. It’s funny how this is also not necessarily connected to confidence. Just because I know I’m pretty or can argue a point or have a more valid or informed opinion on something doesn’t then mean I act upon that. And actually I’m just, well, average. But you know what? Average is good. Average is great. I am reasonably good at a number of things. I am reasonably pretty, not stunningly floor-jaw-droppingly gorgeous, I don’t break hearts (except on very special occasions, natch), I twinge them, I am musical enough to know that I’m not a virtuoso in the making but I know how to enjoy the mu I do (and berate myself for not doing more). I’m a reasonably good friend, I’m reasonably good company. All this is great. Anyway, pride. If I can possibly help it I don’t go in for public crying. I don’t go in for telling people how I feel when I know it’s bloody hopeless. Once there was a boy who was one of my best friends except that every time we hadn’t seen each other for a few months he would declare his undying love. I couldn’t possibly do that. Last time I declared my feelings for someone in any major way (well, not the absolute last time, actually, it was rather a while ago) I did my utmost to make a big joke out of it, water off a ducks back. I think I had him fooled (there’s a bit of me that, next time it’s relevant, or perhaps better when it’s not, really wants to try my housemate’s hilarious line, said in the weirdest creepy-child voice you can muster, ‘I like you… do you like me yet?’). I think I would actually rather lose chances than make a fool out of myself.

And the same goes for all kinds of things. I am unsure in my friendship with some people but I would rather sit in limbo and consider those friendships Probably Lost than make the effort to say, look, do you actually like me, is it safe to assume I am invited on Friday (or whatever)? At the start of the holidays I was justifiably nervous about a particular set of friendships and it took me a massive amount of courage to approach a friend within that group and establish what the playing field looked like because I knew otherwise I’d make all kinds of silly assumptions and never see them again, and I’ve done that with far too many friends over the years. It gets me in trouble sometimes. I’ll only ask you once if you’re around in the holidays. If you don’t reply I will tend to assume not that you’re in some kind of reception/internet desert/out of credit/genuinely busy, but that you don’t particularly care whether you see me or not. Not in a crazy pathetic black-haired-teen way, just in an, ‘ah well, win some lose some’ way. If that makes sense. I’m far less happy-go-lucky than I try to appear, but I think that’s only news to me, really.

And yet when I look at it people tell me I am actually frighteningly, close-to-the-bone honest, they use words like ‘bravery’ and ‘really admirable’ and tell me God loves me for it. Perhaps it’s just that I’d rather be dignified when I’m being honest. And by dignified I mean I would rather not show emotion. Or perhaps as usual the way I see myself is miles off the mark from how I really am. Either way, there are some cards I am keeping bloody close to my chest. No-one ever gets to see the whole hand.

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Weekend Away

With the church, to Edale Youth Hostel. Beautiful scenery, good company, great food, a weekend of prayer and contemplation and some good thoughts and speeches from Mark Russell, CEO of Church Army.

As usual with my church at times it got pretty intense, lots of prophesying, group prayer and laying on of hands. I think prophesy is very often more like cold-reading, you say something relevant and it sounds like a prophesy, although I certainly believe in prophesy as a concept (I mean, look at the Bible, it’s full of people in the Old Testament predicting things that happen in the New) and I don’t see why there shouldn’t be prophets in this day and age but I don’t think everyone has the gift of prophesy, unlike my church, and in fact I think if anything at all it’s extremely rare and not akin at all to what my church does and calls prophesy. Fair enough. It’s reasonably harmless. I don’t like group prayer either, or rather, it depends who I’m praying with, because I tend to prefer prayer to be personal and contemplative and it doesn’t help me having a youth worker or part of the Ministry Team – i.e. someone who is at best only an acquaintance – praying with me for things which are relevant to my life only and which they don’t really understand, however well they might mean what they say. So I tend to prefer praying on my own or with close friends who understand what I’m praying about a bit better. To be honest I’m terribly British and find the whole thing very awkward because my relationship with God is private and personal and given that I’m not necessarily particularly huggy or tactile as a person, if I wouldn’t normally lay my hands on a person or hug them spontaneously then it feels odd to be touching them or them to be touching me when I’m praying.

Worship got pretty intense, too, but I think I learnt a lot this weekend about how far I’ve come as a Christian and where I want to go and where God wants me to go next. So I’m still worried and still stressed but things are starting to look a little better than they were.

And meanwhile I got out on a beautiful walk with some friends. Photos are up on Facebook, or will be soon, but don’t be too excited, they’re only iPhone quality, however beautiful the scenery… and I can’t be bothered to put them up here…!

So, hello, folks. My, that was an exciting post for you. Now. Food and fiddle practice and I have a decision to make – do I want or need to go to church tonight or would it be better to stay home and relax, preferably with A, H, and a PFW?

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