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  • A Pause before Advent

    It has become something of a personal tradition to take as one my leave Sundays the final one before Advent.  Sometimes I have taken the opportunity to go on retreat, sometimes I have done some reading, sometimes I've just taken a break to relax.  This year it will involve lots of sitting on coaches as I travel to visit my mother for a couple of days.

    Unusually, I have done the majority of my Christmas shopping, have ordered or bought most of my cards - and yesterday even received the first of the season!  Advent is a busy kind of waiting and, in the northern, hemisphere at a dark, damp and weary time of the year.

    My first Advent sermon (yet to be pondered let alone written) has the working title 'Waiting, waiting, waiting...' and will, I hope, enable me explore some of the tensions that this season, and indeed any experience of waiting, can hold for us.

    But first - a pause, a few days of deliberate blog-silence, and a few with zero internet connecting simply to be.

  • Leadership and...

    This morning I have been invited to be the guest at a class looking at factors around leadership and gender, or gender and leadership, in the context of Christian leadership.  This isn't the 'can women be leaders and if so of what' deabte, this is more along the lines of 'what difference does it make to be a woman or a man'.

    I'm happy to go along, to share my story and to engage in a Q&A session, but I'm not so sure I've ever got my head around the extent to which, if at all, leadership styles are gendered.  Is my preferred style collaborative because I'm female, or because I have a personality that lends itself to that approach?  Does making cupcakes fall prey to gender stereotypes, or is it just something that I actually quite enjoy?  Am I 'unfeminine' because I'm not a cuddly, mothering sort?  The more questions I ask myself, the more complex it all becomes.

    What kind of leader am I?  One that worries she is not a good leader, one that really dislikes confrontation, one that can be passive-aggressive and defensive, one that can be bossy, one that wants everyone to be happy and like each other (unrealistic idealist then!), one that has workaholic tendencies, and so on.

    What has made me the kind of leader I am?

    I owe a huge debt to the Brownies, where I was a Seconder and then Sixer of the Pixies at the age of nine!  And an even more huge debt to the Girls' Brigade where I began Young Leader training at the age of 14 and was leading first groups, then whole sections, of girls aged 5-8, 8-11, 11-14 and 14-18 by the time I became an Officer at 18.  Organising Camps and outings, managing accounts, planning programmes, serving at Districe, Division and national level... I learned loads and had lots of fun.  It was also the place where from the age of 14 I regularly led devotions, developing my love of for what is now referred to as 'multi-sensory worhsip' and 'messy church'.

    And another huge debt to the church, where from the age of six when I first stood behind a lectern to read Psalm 100, to being entrusted with Sunday School classes of all ages, to taking on roles such as 'envelope secretary' and very-much-after-a-fashion pianist/organist.  Being given a voice in church meetings, and, in my thirties, being elected to the Diaconate.

    Industry too, is significant.  Opportunities to lead small then large projects, to liasie with sometimes difficult customers and demanding regulatory bodies.  Lots of baking of cakes and buying of shortbread to keep my teams content during protracted periods of 70+ hour weeks on crazy projects.  Lots of teaching and mentoring others.  Lots of training courses in leadership, mentoring, customer relations ... and more to the point the day to day rough and tumble of pastoral and line-management responsibility for people often older and more highy qualifed than myself.

    All of this has shaped and formed me.  All of this, and more, is a mix of formal training, practical experience and personal preferences.  How much is down to being female, or single, or straight, or English, or shy, or an ISTJ/ISFJ borderline, or an Enneagram 'loyal' or 'perfectionist', or liking cats, or any other identifiable trait, I'm really not sure.

    Above all, I guess it is life in all its fullness that has shaped me - my parents and siblings, my friends, my successes and failures... the list could be endless.

    But it will be fun to meet the students today and participate in their class.  And I hope, I really hope, that they find it helpful too.

  • Thoughts from a Football Match

    I have absolutely zero interest in football, so it was a bit of an odd thing to set out to watch the first half of yesterdays' "friendly" between England and France.  I was, I have to admit, curious to see how the media circus would report it, what kind of language would be used, what gestures and symbols might arise.

    There are things everyone noticed, and things hardly anyone saw, such as, stitched to the tops of each player, the logo of the UK charity Breast Cancer Care.  Long before any of the recent events, this match was due to help raise funds for the chairty, and indeed, did evidently raise tens of thousands of pounds.  Unreported, and largely unnoticed.  But it made me think.

    Cancer is the collective name for a set of vile diseases and conditions that are, perversely, utterly nondsicriminatory.  Respecting no social mores, cancer can affect people of any ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, gender, religion, policitcal opinion, age, education, wealth or health.  There was something striking, to me anyway, that in the context of a football match that overtly set out to say that "we" will not be defeated by "them", a huge sum of money was raised to support a cause whose "we" will always embrace "them" because it uses a whole different set of definitions.

    There is a lot that troubles me about the responses to events in France, and others have written far more eloquently about that than ever I could.   So I'm going to end with some words lifted from the Facebook page of Nicholas Adams, a theology/religion professor at the University of Birmingham:

    "As the dust begins to settle in Paris, some brief practical reflections coming out of my inter-religious work (some of it in Pakistan and Indonesia).
    (1) IS does not aim to make life intolerable for white Europeans. That is not a realistic goal. They aim to make life intolerable for European Muslims, by hardening white European attitudes. That is achievable, and our national presses willingly collude.
    (2) Any government that responds by increasing surveillance of the general populace while cutting funds for local community policing is colluding too.
    Bombers are people who are told, and believe, 'they hate us'. The single most effective way to reduce hate and the perception of hate is well funded and well trained local community policing. (That, and refusing to buy papers that fuel hate towards Muslims.)"

  • In My Thoughts

    It's not often Leicestershire villages make it onto the national news, but today two very close to "Dibley" were named in connection with a missing teenage girl.

    Ibstock and Measham, small villages in a semi-rural former mining area.  On the fringe of my former 'patch' I know them fairly well, and the Sence Valley Park was a place I wiled away many a happy hour.

    Tonight these lesser known places occupy my thoughts... and I call to mind a God who notices when a sparrow falls.

    Thoughts with friends, former neighbours and erstwhile colleagues at this time.

  • Shameless Advertising

    When I discovered that my essay was not only going to be included in this book, but was going to be the first chapter, I was excited and humbled and a whole range of other positive emotions.  I was then saddened to discover that, apart from my author copy, it would never be seen outside of New Zealand, because the publishing house don't do overseas sales.  Some gentle persistent nagging by the editors, and a promise by me to advertise it through any networks I could muster, have resulted in their agreeing to offer it for $30NZ including postage, which is an absolute bargain... Less than £15 for UK purchasers, and Christmas is coming... what better gift for your minister, oncologist or even yourself.

    It comes with a health warning - the stories will make you cry and make you smile, and the book will make you think.  It isn't preachy, it doesn't have neat tidy answers, and not all contributors think alike.  Well worth every penny, cent or whatever currency you spend on it!