We Need to Talk About Race – Book Review

If I was pushed to describe this book in two words it would be uncomfortable and hopeful and the challenge of the book can be summed up by the words of Augustine which are quoted:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

I felt uncomfortable as I read, mainly because my own conscience was pricked. I have been guilty of believing that as a mixed race woman, I wasn’t complicit in racism, but what Ben does so beautifully in this book is confront false beliefs whilst pointing to the way forward full of hope. The way forward is based not on tokenism or shows of diversity; but the kind of radical inclusion that Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry.

This has to begin with a recognition of how the church has been complicit not only in historic racism, but in perpetuating oppression; through whitewashing of biblical characters (spoiler – Jesus was middle eastern and therefore not white!) and conforming christianity to white culture, rather than allowing it to be a diverse, inclusive movement.

He also highlights and explains the difficulties many black christians face within white majority or white led churches:

“The paradox for some black people is this: loving Jesus and understanding his amazing grace is one thing; loving the church, with its complicated racial history can be problematic.”

How can church be a safe place when it’s been so complicit in causing pain?

The best parts of “We Need to Talk About Race” are those which present how we can best serve those in minority communities – from ensuring that our leadership reflects our desire for inclusiveness (rather than having a token minority to salve our consciences), to not expecting people to leave their own cultures at the door and conform to how ‘we’ do church.

As the church, we must challenge racism in our pews and communities, because if we remain silent, we are perpetuating injustice that has been present for hundreds of years.

We have a lot of work to do, and Ben’s book is a brilliant starting point and manifesto should be on your summer reading list.

We Need To Talk About Race is published on the 18th July.

 

 

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The Man I Pray You’ll Be – Reflections on Martin Saunders’ “The Man You’re Made to Be”

I’m trying to imagine the world that my son will be living in by the time he’s old enough to read a book like “The Man You’re Made to Be”. It’s probably very different to the one he’s been born in. I hope that Brexit is no longer in the news in 2024! 

I often wonder who my little boy will grow up to be; I can already see that he is funny and cheeky and often hungry, but I hope many things for him, many of which are reflected in Martin’s brilliant book. 

I hope that he grows to put his hope and trust in the Lord; that he will put God first even when times are difficult. I pray that he knows he is loved; by God, by his Dad and I, by our wider family and friends. 

When I was pregnant, the thing I prayed for the most is that he will be kind. We are so often told that we can and should be anything, and I don’t mind what career path (or paths) he chooses, but I pray that he will be known for his kindness. The Bible talks many times about God’s hesed, His loving kindness and I pray that as he grows to know God, he grows in kindness. 

I hope that by the time he’s grown, there will be no stigma around mental illness (and that I will then have found a new job to do if that is the case!) I hope that he knows there is nothing shameful about expressions of emotion; of tears and frustration and shouts of joy, but that these emotions can be expressed healthily or unhealthily – with any luck we’ll model some of the healthy expressions, but I know that if he looks to Jesus he will find a clear picture of how we can cope with our feelings. As Martin writes:

“In a culture of bottled up male emotions, Jesus is a breath of fresh air: a blue print for a healthier kind of masculinity.”

I hope that my little boy will know how incredible our bodies are and that will inform how he treats his own body and how he treats everyone else. That he will use what power he has to encourage and build people up, rather than tear them down. 

I would love him to know the joy of books and reading, his Dad would probably like him to love cycling (I’m ambivalent about that one!) 

I hope that he has friends who bring out the best of one another; that they will go on adventures together, have fun and be able to rely upon one another in harder times. 

And I’d like to echo the final words of Martin’s:

“I pray that you will be able to draw your identity as a man not from past experiences, genetics or decisions you’ve made, but from the unswerving know­ ledge that you were handmade by a God who says to you, day after day, and minute after minute of your life: I love you man.”

Martin Saunders is the Deputy CEO of Youthscape and you can buy his book from the Youthscape store exclusively for one week before general publication!

Motherhood and Mental Illness

They are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows. For some; motherhood heralds the beginning of mental health struggles, for some an improvement and for others motherhood entangles itself in a pre-existing mental health condition.

For me, my mental health was the best it’s been since I was thirteen. Pregnancy seemed to soothe the anxious waters of my mind and, despite a traumatic birth and my son arriving with a chest infection, the calm and contentment continued.

Motherhood is everything I hoped, quite a bit like I expected but more demanding than I could have imagined. My son has so far been what some might call “an easy baby”; we escaped the newborn phase without colic and he generally eats, poops and sleeps as one might expect.

What I’ve discovered however, is that an “easy” baby doesn’t mean that parenting is easy!

There are shades of difficulty; I for example was an objectively difficult baby for my poor parents (I didn’t sleep through the night until I was nine), others seem to breeze through babyhood as if they got an instruction manual in utero. Most are somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum, but wherever on that spectrum you find yourself in, there is the uncertainty, less sleep, recovery from a child’s arrival (however that happens) and general “winging it”!

For my little family, learning to navigate parenthood alongside pre-existing depression and anxiety has been the steepest of learning curves. For whilst I’ve been better than I can remember over the past year, I constantly feel as if I’m walking a tightrope. I want to be the best Mum I can be – but I don’t want to get unwell.

The things I have done for the last decade to manage my conditions are exponentially harder with a baby. You can’t be a freelance Mum, for starters! Whilst I would usually protect my sleep at all costs to prevent my mind going into free fall, it’s almost impossible to ensure a solid nine hours a night every night, but I am beginning to navigate this new normal.

And my new normal wouldn’t be possible without my village – not my actual village, although I do live in one, – but the people who step in and step up.

A few weeks back, I found myself stumbling (I’m mixing my metaphors quite spectacularly, aren’t I?!) I started to sleep less, laying awake for hours after getting up to do a night feed. My mind began to spin with anxiety and I felt shame shroud me like a dementor’s cloak.

And then the tears started to fall.

This is a well worn path for, a scarily predictable descent into what we euphemism as “a dip”.

Usually, I would hide; cry and sleep for a couple of days and re-emerge slowly into the world when I felt stronger.

Instead, I had a six month old baby who needed me to feed, play and care for him.

The curious thing is, that this responsibility made the situation simultaneously harder and easier.

Harder because when I could barely think straight, I had to think on behalf of a helpless baby. But it also made me take care of myself and take action in a way I don’t think I’ve been able to before. I rang my husband, we arranged for my best friend to take my son for a day long play date so I could get some rest, and I took a break from trying to be both full time Mum and full time freelancer, working out a new rhythm that wouldn’t completely exhaust me.

Motherhood and mental illness are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows, but they can and do co-exist.

The bright side, if there is one, is that it has already taught me that taking care of myself is not an optional extra of parenthood – but vital. It doesn’t mean candles and massages (although I do quite like the both) but getting enough rest, food, exercise and fresh air. It means allowing people to help out without feeling guilty and being honest about how I’m coping.

For some, mental illness is a far more disruptive and difficult bedfellow, but taking care and being taken care of are universal needs- even for those without any mental health conditions!

 

 

Kindness, Actually.

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Jennifer Dukes Lee

When I was pregnant with my son, I prayed many things over him – but one thing came to mind every time.

Kindness.

In a world where we are pushed to be more, do more, see more; my prayer was and continues to be that he will be kind.

We can’t all be academics, sporty, good looking or accomplished; but we all have an opportunity to be kind.

It is the moments of kindness which stick most clearly in my memory; I don’t necessarily remember presents I’ve been bought (though I do love a present!) but I remember people’s kindnesses towards me.

I remember the man who helped me get the buggy down the stairs the first time I got the tube with the baby.

I remember the friend who dropped everything to come over and lighten my load when I was struggling.

I remember the coffee my husband brings me in the morning.

And the kindnesses we share are but a reflection of the King of kindness.

God’s kindness, His hesed (literally translated as lovingkindness) is at the heart of who He is and everything He does.

Our hope is anchored in God’s loving kindness towards us, even in the darkest of times.

In the many psalms and passages of lament in the Bible; when people are crying out their most desperate petitions of pain to God, it is God’s kindness which marks the turning point to praise – because it’s what the promises of God rest upon and the praises to God rise from.

It’s the tenderness of Jesus as He wept, the care of the Father as He provided for the Israelites in exile and the presence of the Holy Spirit who translates our groans into prayers.

The most famous verse in the book of Lamentations 3.22 is the one which speaks of God’s kindness in the midst of prayers of agony.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for him.”

Our laments rely on the kindness of God – and they are not disappointed.

Michael Card writes in his book “Inexpressible” which studies the word hesed through the Bible:

“He demonstrates his incomparable strength by means of his infinite kindness.”

God’s infinite kindness isn’t separate from his power and might – it’s the vehicle of it.

And it’s our role to be His vehicles of hesed on earth.

To show loving kindness to our families, our friends, our neighbours and our strangers.

Maternity Leave Lessons

Last Monday my five months of maternity leave ended. Before I left work, I was dreading it. I left my first baby (ThinkTwice) in other people’s hands for the first time ever and although I trust the hands I left it in, I was worried about what would happen whilst I was away. Was I going to forget how to do my job? Was I going to hate being at stay at home mum? Would I be bored? Would I want to go back to work?

And now I’m back,  working in a strange hinterland. I am a stay at home Mum but also a freelance writer, trainer and charity founder. I get the best of both worlds because I get to do the job I love and be with my son lots; and the worst of both worlds, because I’m trying to do two jobs at the same time!

But back to the lessons I’ve learnt over the past five months:

  1. Rest. It’s taken me twenty-eight years to begin to get my head around this one, but looking after a small person has taught me that I’m much better at doing life when I listen to my body and mind and get some rest. I’ve tried my hardest to rest or sleep when my son sleeps (and whilst that’s a little harder now I’m working) I’m hoping that I can continue to remember that I don’t need to try and be superwoman. Self care isn’t about candles and bullet journals; it’s about doing the things you need to do in order to function.
  2. The Village. There is a reason why people bang on about it taking a village to raise a child – because it’s true. Babies are demanding creatures and having people around you to cuddle your baby, make you laugh or cry to is invaluable. Our village have been incredible; I don’t think we cooked a single meal for the first month of our son’s life and since then people have been amazing at checking in, spending time with us and on a couple of occasions, looking after our baby so my husband and I could go out and remember who we were before we became Mummy and Daddy. Not forgetting the amazing world of baby groups where I’ve made new friends after fearing that I didn’t know how to anymore. Parent or not, we were made to live in community and whether it be your work colleagues, friends or actual neighbours, I’m learning not to be afraid of asking for help and giving it back!
  3. Trust. I like to read things to help me understand the world and my place in it, I like to read things to see that I’m not alone and so it came as no surprise that I devoured blogs and books on parenting and babies. And whilst some of the information I’ve gleaned has been incredibly helpful; it’s also taught me that I can actually trust my own instincts. I don’t think I ever truly trusted myself before; perhaps it’s a fallout from the decade living in self-destruct, but I do know deep down what my body needs and I’m also learning to know what my baby needs.
  4. Wonder. There is nothing like being with a baby to teach you about wonder. Whether it’s his own face (my son is particularly fond of his!), watching the wind blow through trees or slapping his hands on a coffee table (apparently can provide minutes of fun – until he hit the table too hard and made himself cry!), being able to watch the amazement on my little boy’s face as he discovers the world has reminded me just what an incredible world we live in and how beautifully crafted our bodies are.
  5. Thankfulness and Difficulty are not mutually exclusive. When you have longed for a baby, when you are acutely aware of those who are desperate to be in the position you find yourself in as a new parent, it can be hard to find the balance between expressing the gratefulness you feel as well as acknowledging that parenting is flipping hard! But good things aren’t necessarily easy things – and parenting definitely falls into that category. Sometimes, I haven’t wanted to share the parts I’ve struggled with because I never want people think I’m not grateful for my son and the gift he is, but neither do I want to present a shiny instagram version of motherhood. My middle ground balancing gratitude and grace. To be grateful for the gift that parenthood is and receive grace for the days when it feels more like a grind.

There are many other lessons I’ve learned; not least that you should always pack one more bib, nappy and feed than you think will be necessary, but these are the ones I will hold dear and probably need reminding of the most in the months to come.

Tracing the Tears – Resurrection #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”

John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection begins with tears.

The tears of Good Friday and Holy Saturday were still wet on the faces of Jesus’ friends when He returned to them.

And it was through the tears of Mary Magdalene that He chose to appear – that tells me a lot about the Jesus I follow.

It tells me that this suffering servant is acquainted with the deepest grief, but it also tells me that Jesus forever reigns over the agony, that death and agony are beaten.

Twice in the stories of Jesus’ resurrection He is obscured to the people He appears to; first here when Mary believes that someone has taken the body of Jesus she does not realise to whom she speaks until He speaks her name.

Jesus makes the first move, every time, and waits patiently for us to respond. He leaves the ninety-nine to go after the lost sheep and waits for us to invite Him in when we are found.

And secondly, in Luke we read that Jesus is not recognised until He breaks bread with the hopeless travellers on the way to Emmaus.

The Risen Jesus does things as unexpectedly in life as in resurrection (as if resurrection were not unexpected enough!)

He reveals His power over the grave through signs that others may call weak; Mary’s tears, Cleopas’ hopelessness, His own scars which prove who He is to Thomas.

Our first signs of life are our cries of a baby; and here we see that it is through tears that the risen Lord first appeared. Our tears signal the beginning of everything new; the new life Jesus offers, the new hope He embodies.

As the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, we are reminded that His mercies and our hope are new every morning.

Our hope is in the Christ who died for us, who suffered in His mercy.

Our hope is in the Christ who rose from the grave who has beaten death and evil, in His mercy still bearing the scars of crucifixion.

Our hope is in the Christ who will come again in glory and who in His mercy allows the dawn to rise slowly so that our eyes may become accustomed to the blistering light and life of who He is.

“We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Pope John Paul II

 

Tracing the Tears – Holy Saturday #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


No one likes to talk about days like today.

There is no drama, no battle, no victory.

The grave is full and the grief is raw.

It feels like death has won.

Below is a reflection on Holy Saturday adapted from my book “Learning to Breathe“.


Holy Saturday is a day to lament.

Holy Saturday is the valley of grief and uncertainty, for us and for Jesus’ disciples.’

It’s the place where we spiritually live so often, when the worst has happened and we don’t know if or how we can go on – yet in the midst of darkness we trust that dawn will break. It’s often like this in the rest of life, I think. We often remember the most dramatic days, the happiest, but how often do we remember the days of silence, when everything is wrong but nothing can be done? I don’t know if it’s a good thing that we forget days like these in our own lives, but I think it would be good if we spent a little more time remembering Holy Saturday.

It goes beyond the agony of the cross, even. The day when it was finished – when Jesus was dead – because of our sins. It is a day of silence, it seems.

God doesn’t always speak. Sometimes the silence of God says it all. As I write, I’m reminded of Job. Job who lost everything and everyone who mattered to him. Job whose friends were worse than useless. Job to whom God remained silent, waiting to speak. It strikes me that the silence of God is more often than not followed by a presence of God that is so awesome, so mighty, that we can do nothing but bow in praise and awe.

A season like this Holy Saturday can seem endless. It’s the state in which we sometimes live our lives. It’s an open wound. Shelly Rambo writes:

‘The reality is that death has not ended; instead it persists. The experience of survival is one in which life, as it once was, cannot be retrieved. However the promise of life ahead cannot be envisioned.’

There is no happy ending on Holy Saturday. Jesus is in the grave and the shadows of His death keep this day dark without a hope for the resurrection dawn. It’s a mistake to rush beyond today, because it is reflected so often in life.

Holy Saturday continues the tradition of lament set out in the Old Testament, throughout the Psalms and, of course, Lamentations. It tells us that even when God is silent, he is still to be trusted.

It’s important not to rush past the silent days of lament.

We have to be able to deal with the times when God does seem to be on mute, to be absent.

Silence does not mean that God does not exist; scripture shows us that God’s work of life begins in the dark silence and reminds us that even on these; there is hope because Jesus has been in the dark of the tomb and it was the beginning of our greatest hope.

He blesses every love that weeps and grieves

And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.

The love that’s poured in silence at old graves

Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,

Is never lost. In him all love is found

And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.

Malcolm Guite