Sunday, 21 November 2010

Some Lessons I've Learned Lately about Love

A friend told me this story about himself.

He had just started at Bible college and after the first lecture he went up to his professor and said "This book tells me I'm going to hell because I'm gay. Tell me why."

There are 101 things his professor could have said to him. A professor of theology might have turned to several passages in the Bible, and begun some kind of exegesis. What he said was this:

"This book tells you that God loves you."

That was all that he said. He didn't add anything to that, or explain it, or give a caveat or a reference or anything else. He didn't need to because his sermon was completely self-contained and accurate. My friend was blown away by this and completely transformed - it hit him right between the eyes that he would always have this bottom line: God loved him. No ifs, no buts, no ands. God loves him.

So my friend's professor taught me a wonderful, simple lesson about love.

The Bible college was a residential one and my friend had to share a room, like many other students. He was sharing with a young man who thought he knew a lot about a lot of things. Reader, you may have met one or two young men like him. The room mate shared a lot of opinions about homosexuality that hurt my friend, for example that it he would never let a child of his go to a Sunday school class that my friend was teaching, because my friend was not safe to be in contact with children.

When I hear people say things like this, my reaction is to first get very angry and then to write them off. I define that person as ignorant and hateful and resolve to no longer be in contact with them. But my friend is different to me because he had learned a very simple lesson about love that had changed his life. My friend was angry with him and told me that often it was very hard for him not to punch his room mate in the face. I empathised. But, he said, but he also knew that he was loved. And that made it difficult for him to hate. He was so convinced and changed by this heart knowledge of his status as an unconditionally loved person, that his instinct to love this person was stronger than his instinct to hate him. Not because he thought he ought to love him as 'the right thing to do' but because his knowledge that he was loved compelled him to love this guy, and to keep coming back to this point again and again, even though he was hurt by him again and again.

I was bowled over by this.

It highlighted a couple of important things for me. The first is that although I completely agree with my friend's professor, I think I don't really believe it for myself deep down. I understand that I am loved by God and that there is a full stop at the end of that sentence, and no other sentence is needed. But I always like to add my own but, or my own and. God loves me but he also hates me a bit and expects me to do more than I ever possibly can and when I don't, he hates me a bit. But yes, he loves me. Or God loves me and it's because I don't do this thing. Or God loves me and it's because I am so this and so that. I think the fact that my friend didn't add his own but or and, is the reason why his life was changed by it and he was able to love his enemy. I think my buts and ands are what makes me withdraw from my enemies and write them off.

So the second thing I realised is that my dogged refusal to accept this unconditional love thing has meant that I'm very bad at loving. Because loving means staying and not running away. I am about to join a new church and I've realised that part of the reason I've taken so long to choose one is because I don't want to take the painful risk of committing to love. I have been hurt by a lot of people similar to my friend's room mate and I have seen a lot of friends hurt by his kind and my instinct is to think that Christians are often not very nice so I'll withdraw. But I also know that being part of a church means that I am called to love people - that's sort of the point of it. And some of those people will think they know a lot about a lot of things and will say things and they will hurt me and I want to be someone who stays and loves them. And the reason I want to do that is because it's sinking in that I am loved and then there is a full stop. And that full stop is starting to make me want to be brave and love others with my own full stop. I think that's probably a better attitude to join a church with than the one I've had of late.

Here is a link that has helped me to soak in the full stop: Everyone everywhere needs to know this.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Unjust Desserts

Anticipation can be a delicious thing. Especially in the context of one of my favourite hobbies: eating.

I love those moments between savouring the savoury and knowing there'll soon be the sweet full stop of a pudding. There is only one thing that can ruin these wonderful few moments and that is the fury, rage, sorrow and injustice I experience when someone misinterprets the remit 'pudding' to include the revolting non-dessert that is crumble. It's a lot like waking up with a buzz of excitement on the morning of your birthday, only to have your parade rained on by being given a cow for someone in Africa as your main gift. Yes, broadly speaking it is a present. Yes, morally speaking I should be pleased. But there doesn't seem to be any chocolate happening here and that's really my point.

Allow me to explain.

The definition of a pudding is something sweet and delicious. In order to achieve the status of sweet deliciousness, one or more of the following must be present as a primary ingredient: custard, chocolate, cream. Did you see boiled up old fruit there? No. Did you see broken old bits of biscuit? No. All crumbles are therefore wrong, but there is nothing quite so heinous as the inclusion of leaf stalks into a pudding. That's what rhubarb is friends. It's a little known fact that most of a rhubarb plant is actually poisonous. That's God's way of warning us that eating it is wrong.

Somebody give me a custard injection.

Oddbabble: When she's queen the dictionary and the law will reflect these truths.

Swedish Smedish

The first part always lures me into a false sense of joy because I will be eating Very Cheap Meatballs with lovely gravy, chips and some sort of jam on the side. That's all I really want from life generally. So with stomach full, I go to pick up the one wardrobe that I have already chosen from the catalogue in the comfort of my own home.

I just need one thing.

But hang on, there's a cuddly scorpion that's only 39p, so I'd better get 5. And something which makes my cupboards seem bigger. And a set of wine glasses. And a watering can. And, and...

OK, now I really do have everything I need, I just need to get to the bit where the flatpacks are kept. But there is a couple walking in front of me veerryyy slowly with a wide trolly and wider bottoms. I will have to stay behind them at their pace until I get to a junction because the path is very narrow and my only alternative is to clamber over the fitted kitchen. They are very slow. They are very wide.

Eventually I duck past but am soon met by another obstacle. A fueding couple who are blocking my path by holding oversized soft furnishings. "I don't want to make a SCENE David." "I'm not making a scene, I just don't think those will go with the curtains, and I don't think you really see the seriousness of that."

I would love to stay and see how this develops but I want to GET OUT but I am on a seemingly never-ending winding narrow path peopled by wide couples or arguing couples or other people blocking me in equally inconsiderate ways.

And I still haven't seen my wardrobe even though I've been through 3 wardrobe sections (or have I been to the same wardrobe section 3 times?).

I decide to ask a member of staff for help. There are none. I continue to search and eventually approach someone.
Me: Hi, I wonder if you can help me?
Employee (without looking up): Yeah?
Me: I'm looking for the Bonky Wardrobe.
Employee: You'll need to check the catalogue.
Me: Great, where can I find a catalogue?
Employee: On that stand over there.
Me: Ah, I did just check there, there aren't any.
Employee: That one over there then.
Me: Oops, none there either!
Employee: Sorry, can't help then.

Undeterred I continue to wind my way around the endless pathway until I locate the Bonky Suite, and copy down the corresponding code to find the flatpack. I can now get to the flatpack bit, but I have been here for 15 hours so my energy is beginning to flag, plus I have been carrying 35 unneccessary essentials with me for the entire duration.

I locate the flatpack I need and am physically unable to move it at all.

I ask for help and a kind employee takes it to the till. I pay and hand over my loyalty card which is scanned.

Me: This doesn't seem to have made any difference to my bill.
Cashier: No, it just gives you a free cup of tea in the canteen you were in 15 hours ago.

The employee helps me to wheel the flat packs to my car, taking me past the returns area. The facial expressions and body language of the people there make it resemble a waiting room for a doctors' surgery where there is only one doctor who is only in on an unspecified day and you are not allowed to know which one.

The flat pack will not fit in my car.

There is one thing (except the meatballs, and the joy of assembling the furniture once it's home) that redeems this company. That thing is Anna. Try saying these things to her: 'You are pretty.' 'Will you go out with me?' 'Are you married?' I love the way she becomes so anxious - it's OK, I'm not really interested in you, you're a picture! And I love the way she pronounces Ikea! If you can make her say anything else amusing, do let me know.

Oddbabble: Can't tell her Bonky from her Shlonky.

Ladies Who Lunch

Pam -Soozie-Doreen-Jean

Pam: Helloooo, and welcome to LADIES WHO LUNCH!
Audience of middle-aged women: Wooooo!!
Pam: We've got a fantastic show for you today. We'll be discussing 'Does my bum look big in this?' 'Should I dump my man?' and a Serious Political Debate!
Audience: Wooooo!!
Pam: OK, so let's start with our first topic. Ladies, do you ever worry about the size of your bum?
Jean: OMG are you joking?
Audience: Wooooo!!
Jean: I mean, if panties could talk!
Other panel members: Hahaha! What is she like?!
Jean: I remember a time when I said to my boyfriend, 'does my bum look big in this?' and he said, wait for it girls, he said 'well you know what you always say to me darling, size does matter!'
Audience (hysterical at the mention of a slight penis innuendo): WOOOOOOOOOO!!!
Pam: Hahahaha. What about you Doreen?
Doreen: I love my bum I've always been happy with my bum. I think all women who don't like their bums are stupid and fat anyway. It's obvious that the answer is to eat fewer pies.
Jean: Doreen, how can you say that?! What about all the wine you drink?
Audience: Wooooo!!
Pam: I do have to admit ladies, we did have a couple of bevvies last night!
Doreen: A couple? Only if you mean the equivalent of newly weds' body weight!
Audience: Woooo!!
Jean: What is she like?!
Pam: OK girls enough about drinking and bums...
Audience: Wooooo!!'s time for our Serious Political Debate!
Doreen: Oh I don't know, I've got such a headache from all the wine last night!
Soozie: She's an alcoholic!!
Audience: Woooo!!
Pam: Now now girls. Our topic today is 'Should the government be making so many cuts?' What do you think girls?
Jean: No way! They're just making cuts all over the place! It's awful! They should be giving us money, not taking it away. How are we meant to pay for things?
Doreen: It's ridiculous. I grew up with nothing as a kid. We all had to drink rain water from the gutter and eat out of bins. But it's not as bad as it is now. It's awful.
Pam (reading from an autocue): But how else will the government tackle the deficit.
Panel: ...
Soozie:....well, I mean, they have to make some cuts I guess...
Doreen: As long as they don't tax alcohol!
Audience: Woooo!
Soozie: Yeah, or penises!
Audience: Wooo!!!
Pam (fanning herself): Well ladies I'm afraid that's all we have time for today! But tune in tomorrow for more topics relevant to ladies today! Bye!!

The next day...

Pam: Helloooo, and welcome to LADIES WHO LUNCH!
Audience of middle-aged women: Wooooo!!
Pam: We've got a fantastic show for you today. We'll be discussing 'Fad diets' 'Is my boyfriend cheating?' and a Serious Political Debate!
Audience: Wooooo!!
Pam: And as it's Soozie's birthday today, we'll also have a random semi-naked man bringing in a cake!
Audience (several of whom have passed out): WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
Pam: OK girls, let's start with Fad Diets. Have any of you tried to lose weight?
Soozie: I'm starting my diet tomorrow!
Doreen: That's what she always says!
Audience: *Falls about in apoplectic laughter*
Doreen: I'm on a wine diet!
Jean: What is she like?! She's hungover again!!
Pam: Oh wait, who's this I see coming in with a cake?
Audience: *Screams hysterically at oiled pretty boy who is blatantly homosexual*
Pam: Happy birthday Soozie, just a little suprise for you. It was either that or a sausage!
Audience: Woooooo!!
Jean: Yes, or a little package!
Audience: Wooooooooooooo!!
Doreen! Or a big one!
Everyone falls about lauging until the credits roll.

The next day...

Pam: Helloooo, and welcome to LADIES WHO LUNCH!
Audience of middle-aged women: Wooooo!!
Pam: We've got a fantastic show for you today. We'll be discussing 'How do I get rid of my cellulite?' 'How do I know if he's the one?' and a Serious Political Debate!
Audience: Wooooo!!

You get the idea...

Monday, 6 September 2010

Another Post On Suffering

At the risk of repeating myself (I've gone over similar lines here) allow me to bang a drum I like to reprise every now and again. And allow me to do it again in a couple of posts' time. Thanks.

Unfortunately for any small group or Bible study I may grace with my presence, I am that irritating token person who always points out the unresolvable, willfully invisible elephant in the passage, just when we all thought we were agreeing pleasantly and coming to the same comfortable conclusions as usual.

On one such occasion the study was on Matthew 7 and I pointed out 2 uncomfortable realities, one of which I will now unpack.

I pointed out that when our Father gives out his gifts, he doesn't do so equally. He gives much blessing to some, and little blessing to others. To some he gives much suffering, to others much less.

One person's response was this; "This is true, but when I've spoken to people who have suffered, their experience of Jesus has been all the sweeter."

I gave a silent reply because of my hideous combination of a wildly emotional histrionic drama queen trapped inside the body of a painfully self-conscious, cringingly English woman. One who knew she had already rocked the boat too many times that evening to add an embarrassing, tearful rebuke (plus, well, my period was due, so the whole thing would have been monstrously amplified and very un-Bible-study-ish).

What I wanted to say was this:

How many suffering people have you actually spoken to in real life? Because what you're saying actually sounds like what you imagine suffering people to say while you are trying to square this difficult circle in your head. Yes, there are wonderful Christian examples like Brother Yun, who are able to count their suffering as a blessing but dare I say it, he is an exceptional man - a true hero of the faith. How many ordinary people with everyday ordinary unequal sufferings have you actually had an authentic conversation with?

Let me give you an example. My own sufferings are very, very small compared to a lot of people. Nevertheless as many readers know, my testimony is mostly not exactly jolly. I was asked for it by someone on the board of a well-known evangelical conference, only to have it returned to me with this feedback - "Thanks for your story. Do you think you could add a sentence or two just mentioning how God made up for what you've sacrificed in other ways?".

My answer was that no, I was not going to bolt on a contrived happy ending. My story is my story and actually, God has not 'made up for it'. There isn't an automatic equilibrium in my life - or anyone else's - which means that bad stuff is always weighed up somewhere with good so it all comes out equal and fair in the end.

Life is not fair people!

Life is not equal!

Even, *gasp* for Christians!

It may well be that my friend had spoken to a lot of suffering Christians and that they gave in to the pressure to give a happy ending and added an experience that was not really felt. Going back to the previous example of Habakkuk in my last rant about this (see the link at the start), sometimes, there really are NO FIGS! Sometimes we don't get peaches to make up for the lack of figs! The right Christian response, as in this passage, is to trust God anyway. To trust that there will be figs and peaches overflowing when we die, yes, but that in this life, some get crops of figs, some get none.

Sometimes that lack of figs creates a 'Heavenly Man' type of Christian. Sometimes it creates an OddBabble type of Christian who is far less heroic in response to her far, far, far lesser sufferings, who actually has a pretty impoverished faith in response, which actually a lot of the time is holding on by a thread, and a lot of the time, the One holding on to the thread is not her.

I am not wishing for fewer Heavenly Men, or for less joy in suffering or for less discipline in blessing-counting. God knows these are all things I desperately need to learn from in my life. I know that part of my response here comes from a gross lack of godliness and I'm not boasting in that.

All I wish for is a bit of honesty and authenticity. Sometimes (often, in my experience) the best response to someone's suffering is not to look for the silver lining, or to make one up when there isn't one, but actually just to weep and grieve with them while they are in their cloud and give them the balm of acknowledging that being in a black cloud just feels shit right now.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Scarecut #2

Today I got my hair cut - an acutely anxiety provoking activity which I wrote about once before here.

I don't have too much to add to what I said then, except to say that all my worst nightmares came true on this occasion.

Kayla, ever the professional, smilingly said the following: "I'm just gonna pop a tissue on you there because I seem to have taken the top off a bleeding sore on your head with my comb."

I took in the scene in the mirror before me: Kayla smilingly holding a blooded tissue above my head, my own blushing, horrified face, and the face of the woman next to me which read "OMG, that woman has actually got leprosy?"

Oddbabble. Glamour is her middle name.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


A collection of oddbabblings, anecdotes and misdemeanors from the last few months...

On Becoming a Grown-up

I recently had to attend my first multi-disciplinary meeting in my newish job. This meant that I had to persuade other adults that I am competent and professional, whereas thus far, I have only had to convince 6-11 year old children, who are frankly gullible. I was very disappointed therefore, to find that during my cycle ride in, a piece of debris flew into my eye, meaning that I was compulsively winking throughout the meeting. The middle-aged women around the table must have thought I was either some kind of creepy flirt, or unusually moved (I was also crying, but only out of one eye), or secretly trying to tell all of them something that they couldn't quite decipher. Either way, it wasn't how I had hoped it would go.

Cheap Seats

Someone I know was delighted to have been given tickets to go and see the famous Riverdance show. Unfortunately, the seats were in a very poor position, meaning she could only see the dancers from the waist up. Thus she was able to watch hours of people wobbling everso slightly while looking straight ahead and holding their arms tightly by their sides.

Unprofessional Footwear

Since I am a counsellor, a friend bought me socks with the following statements on them, to help my clients to know that I'm really there for them:
"I'm not listening!"
"I understand, I just don't care"


After a particularly long day (in fact, almost a duplicate of the one described in my last post) I was waiting to be picked up from a distant station, looking at some trees with lights that flashed in different patterns - some fast, some slow, some sporadic. I found myself auto-empathising and thinking "I see, so you're flashing quite fast now. Perhaps you're feeling quite frantic? OK, and slower, yes. I sense there's a calmness between us now." I genuinely had these actual thoughts about lights on trees. That's tiredness.

Sweet Nothings

Oddbabble: I love you.
Companion: Wow, I think I have 5 layers on today.

Evidence for my Sanity

Genuine quotes from the 'Stickers Are Evil' group on Facebook:

"Stickers are the most disgusting thing in the world, I want to be sick if I am near them."

"yess! finally stickoraphobians unite! i get teased so much but really, IT'S A REAL THING! i demand some friggin respect..."

"i really hate stickers! they make me vomit and cry, ewwwww!!!!!!! ;("

"no way!!! i thought i was on my own. they make me sick! especially when they are curled up. makes my stomach chern!!!"

"The sight of a sticker peeling off with fuzz from a shirt stuck to it makes me nauseous. And little kids with stickers on their faces. It makes me gag EVERY time. I never can understand how ANYONE allows stickers to touch them."

"Stickers make me vomit too!!! I think they are the nastiest things ever. I have to cut off the stickers from apples, I can’t peel them off. I usually buy apples without stickers so I don’t have to deal with gagging when i see the sticker."

"stickers r fricken disgustingg, especially the thought of getting them in my hair, it makes me cringe just to think about it"

I have to stop now because I'm making myself feel sick, but I think I've made my point. I am right.

Childhood Sweethearts

These are the names of the teddys I had when I was a little girl. They seemed genuinely straightforward and logical to me at the time:

Petrol Girl
Kevvy Boobs

Bum Geography

During the snowy season, I fell flat on my bum. The bruise the next day was in the shape of a perfect map of Australia, complete with New Zealand next to it, to scale.

Travel Sickness

Has anyone been to Gatwick Airport recently? While waiting for a delayed plane, I was horrified to be 'entertained' by The Gatwick Factor (like the X Factor, but cleverly renamed, and without any of the elements of enjoyment). They piped it out so loudly that there was literally no escape as we were already airside. I had to endure an elderly lady singing Hey Big Spender, complete with 'sexy' dancing. Old lady, I do not want to know with whom you may or not pop your cork. Frankly, I don't want to think about your cork at all.

Oddbabble: Writes this kind of crap down in her little book.