Tag Archives: Christianity

Happy Advent

Christmascard2013_4 Ah Christmas time, always my favorite time of year. My ex-officemate Claire was at a work lunch many moons ago, when she mentioned my name. “Hmmmmm” said a guy I have never met “Is that the girl who is crazy about Christmas?”. Yup. That’s me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Basically I love the baking, the decorating, the crafts, the lights, the tackiness. The crazy excitement, the movies. I love it all. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But at Ecclesia (our beloved church home) 2 weeks ago, I saw this video which moved me deeply:

(It actually moved me to tears, but I seem to have a broken my tear switch when pregnant and never quite mended it).

Look, I am not going to stop sending cards, stop getting presents, or do anything drastic. Yet. But this video was the first time that I really sat and thought about what Christmas should be to a Christian. The celebration of the birth of Christ. To me, that used to be about going to church throughout advent, going to Midnight Mass, and remembering why we have this festival (unless you are Wiccan or Pagan… totally different reasons then).

Loved coordinating this nativity in 2008

Slowly (and I can be slow) I am realising that it is about more than that. It is about celebrating the birth of Christ. Which surely can mean nothing less than enacting what he stood for: love, charity, selfless giving, equality. I am not ready, nor willing, to make drastic changes to my celebrations (which I suspect I should do), but I have promised that this advent there will be some small changes:

No debt. No debt at all. We celebrate Christmas within our means. No excuses.

Charity work. Active serving of others. Active giving to others. Enough serving of and giving to others that it is inconvenient to me. That it is at my expense.

Christmas celebrations must not get in the way of more important things: serving others, friends, family. That means: no stress! I will build Christmas traditions that enhance my family. Other Christmas traditions: shopping / baking / whatever, happen with my son, or with my friends. Most of them should only happen if they are actively enhancing my family and friendships and bringing love, positivity and peace to them. At the very least, none of them may occur at the expense of them (so no: “Wes, can you take Sam, I have to do such-and-such”).

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I am looking forward to this season! I think this is what Christmas has to be about. Unless you are not a Christian: when you get to enjoy it without these thoughts, just for the party. Awesome 🙂

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A year in Houston

Houston sunrise skyline

Sunrise over Houston

We have a bunch of anniversaries that come one-after-another in June / July (what? It is a long time since June / July? Hush now and keep reading). Our first anniversary occurs on June 1st and marks our move to Houston and into our new (our first!) house.

Hated saying goodbye to these guys (and their brother)

Hated saying goodbye to these guys (and their brother)

I remember the move so clearly. It my friend Rachel’s 6th birthday and the day of her birthday party, and I was miserable to be missing it. I had spent the previous evening with her and her siblings, saying goodbye. On the way home I had to pull over and get out of the car to collapse in hysterical sobs – I was so sad to be leaving my friends in Birmingham behind.

All packed up and ready to go

All packed up and ready to go

I felt better the next morning. We packed up the final parts of our grotty old apartment, wrangled several plants (one of whom got lost), 2 cats, a skittish and terrified Italian Greyhound (RIP little Walter), a 70lb Bernese / Mountain dog cross and a pregnant wife with her enormous pregnancy pillow into a cramped 2-seat Ford Ranger. And off we went.

To the OB.

baby scan 18 weeks

Looking good

Yup, making the most of our health insurance (which, due to Texas state law would have a 1 month gap)  we dropped in to Sabrina Wyatt at UAB to have our ‘is everything OK with the baby?’ anatomy scan. It was early at just shy of 17 weeks, but due to ‘staying remarkably slim’ (the doctor’s words, not mine, although I used them liberally for a long time afterwards) we could get clear pictures of our little Firework. It was nerve wracking as they counted veins and arteries, organs and heart chambers. But Firework was just perfect and wriggling happily away, so off to Houston (for real) we commenced.

It took 13 hours with stops (including a few vomit stops) but we drove up and although we arrived after 1 am, somehow the house did feel like home. The majority of our belongings were arriving my truck in a few days, but pleading pregnancy discomfort, Wes had bought a mattress decent blow-up mattress which we slept on. And so (being fridge- and utensil- less) began our almost 2 week take-out binge. I can barely eat at many of the restaurants we tapped during that time.

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston

Houston has taken some getting used to. Instantly, I liked the anonymity and diversity of Houston. There was definitely a ‘look’ for women in Alabama – think manicured nails and colored styled hair, attractive, but fairly conservative clothes (no high fashion or sports gear), and always make-up. And it was definitely noticed on and commented on (both to your face, and behind you back) if you did not conform to this. I know it sounds crazy, but I was not the only woman I knew who felt pressure to conform to the ‘made-up’ look. It was immediately refreshing to have no ‘look’ to Houston, and for there to be a distinct air of ‘as long as you are not in my business, I will not be in yours’. I initially thrived a lot more, and relaxed and felt better about myself. I felt more confident, and I felt that my friends were truly my friends. Everything was more up front, and less judgmental. I maintain that I prefer this bigger-city attitude, but when I visited Birmingham recently I missed the smiles, and friendliness, and help everyone offers you.

Ecclesia smilebooth

Photo from church

But the diversity is good – Wes and I have been able to find more of what we like. Church was a big thing – I grew up with the “staid and stuffy” [not to me – I loved it!] Catholicism-lite that is Church of England / Episcopalian; think hymns, reciting lots of rote and staid sermons followed by long prayers. Wes grew up with the evangelical passion that is Assemblies of God. I felt uncomfortable with the huge displays of emotion in Wes’ churches (think breaking down and weeping on stage); Wes was bored by reciting the same thing endlessly at mine. I felt I was sometimes watching ‘The Jesus Show’ with no spiritual participation asked of the congregation, Wes felt the robes and rituals we sometimes encountered were ridiculous and against the word of God. A difficult problem to overcome, but with a lot of prayer we did – finding our home with Ecclesia. It is a good mix of interesting but thoughtful speakers, uplifting music combined with weekly sacrament. However, they have adapted the words before collection and communion to be shorter. I feel like we really think about being a Christian, and the church has a lovely focus on charity and giving (you know… actually being Christ-like). Most impressively, their stance on abortion is “As a church, we should focus on telling people what to do [be Christ-like], not what not to do”. And Sam loves the daycare. It really works.

Daycare extrodinaire

Daycare extrodinaire

With our limited budget and different tastes (think like the church problem) Wes and I found it hard to find places to eat in Birmingham – there are many more cheaper eateries here, where I can get salads and he can get pasta or something more hearty. We’ve enjoyed very authentic dim sum and good quality sushi (with raw fish) is never far away. Houston: I approve.

Something delicious for all

Something delicious for all

And a kebab better than London!

And a kebab better than in London!

My one beef with Houston is the huge urban sprawl of it. Look, big is not a problem for me. I lived in London. In fact, I like big (stop sniggering in the back). But I do not like everything being at least a 20 minute drive away. And if you want to go to three or four shops? They are all – yup, 20 minutes drive away. And 20 minutes’ long drive away. You want to go for a walk? Drive 30-40 minutes. For real. Wes doesn’t mind it at all – it drives me up the bleeding wall. I miss the UK way of driving to a shopping center, parking, and being able to shop, eat, have coffee and visit a bar – all without going back to your car. Really not an option in Houston (except a little bit in the very downtown… which is 45 minutes drive away, or in Rice Village which is hellaciously expensive, and still amazingly unwalkable). I like that the Bayou has a running track by it and is 5 minutes from my office. But apart from that – I hate driving to, from and between everywhere.

Nice little urban walk... 45 minutes away.

Nice little urban walk… 45 minutes away.

And the urban sprawl is such that if you want something less urban, a good hike or a good bike ride – you’re looking at 45 minutes or, more likely, a 2 hour drive. I miss being able to just jump to Oak or Ruffner Mountain as I could in Birmingham. And I am having to put my fingers in ears and sing ‘lalalalalalalala’ at Rick Perry (Go Wendy Davis!).

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All in all, Houston has a lot, but has taken a lot of adjusting to. I think it was harder to adjust to arriving pregnant and then having a newborn (kinda cramps the partying style). It also didn’t help that my new school does not have many postdocs, or students / faculty my age – UAB came with a built in social life. It has – and still can be – a lonely city. I don’t know if that is a feature of the coldness and sprawl of Houston, or a reflection of where we are in life (I say ‘we’: I am lonely and miss a big social group, Wes is in his element!). Wes and I are not wedded to staying here, but not devastated that we need to make it at least another 3-5 years to make financial sense. It’s no Colorado but it is no Baton Rouge. It will be interesting to see how I find it in another year’s time.

How this right-wing Christian Tory girl ended up supporting Obama

… Or [alternative title]:

“I am sorry I was an ass-hat for the last 6 months”.

But it takes me a while to get to that part in this post. Patience if you will, please.

So, back in good old Blighty, I was actually noticeably right-wing. I was a Young Conservative. I dated a former Young Conservative. I was devastated when he broke my tax-reducing, spending-cutting heart. I cried when “New Labour” got in. I rejoiced when they were out (although not at the coalition replacement). I… OK, OK, you get the picture. So, it seemed clear to me that when I moved to the US, although I liked Obama as a person, I would support the Tory-party allies: The Republicans.  Right? Right?

No. I don’t so much hate them, as actively fear Romney becoming President. I cry at the thought of it. That’s one helluva turnaround in less than three years. So, I began to ask myself: why? How the heck did this happen? How did it happen living in Alabama (although, living in Alabama was probably causal, but that’s not the point of this post). While vaguely pondering it, I did notice other people making the same switch. Fellow displaced Brits looking confused and perplexed and going “hang on, when did I become a leftie?”. Indeed even the Tory party in the UK is struggling to love the Republicans: Cameron is trying to repair relations with his ‘sister’ party, but keeps making clear statements against Romney-Ryan.

How did this happen? I was genuinely curious. After much thinking and mulling and chatting and yelling and crying, I believe it came down to this: in the UK a lot of the ‘social’ policies are pretty done – yeah we tweak them, yeah there are groups asking for more, yes there is inequality It’s no wonderland). But it not on the same scale as the US. The decision, when voting, comes largely down to economics. Even ‘social’ policies: education, welfare etc are largely discussed in purely economic terms. I tend to be right wing economically (a fiscal conservative?), and so to vote right was an easy decision.

In the US many, many mainstream (by which I mean large) groups are fighting for basic civil rights, which I believe should be extended to them: I am socially liberal. So, with my broad sense economic views not changing, I had to choose: Right vs Left: Economics vs. Society. I chose civil rights. Here is why:

I looked at the economy, and the economic policies offered by the two candidates. I do buy the argument that Obama maybe could have done better economically. I don’t know this, I am sort of 55% on that side, 45% on the side that he couldn’t. I don’t know if Romney would do better, because he won’t lay out a damn plan, nor stick to a stated policy. (I did go and read his 8-page plan on his website. About 3 pages was criticizing Obama, about 3 were saying right wing in general is wonderful. ~2 concerned his actual plan, which was vague and non-specific).

Romney changes all the time, many people say Obama could have done better. So, while I may not be confident handing the economy over to Romney, I am not confident handing it over to Obama either. Kind of a dead heat. My history is to think of more fiscally conservative policies as better in times of strife, so I might actually just tip in favor of the Republican party. But. And it is a big but:

If Obama could have done better (and we don’t know that he could have), I don’t think it is significantly better. That is: the world is in a huge economic recession. The Western world is collapsing under financial distress. I doubt anyone could have done more than Obama, such that enough people’s lives were hugely significantly changed. We don’t know if traditionally left- or right- wing policies really work better. Historians and top economists argue about it. But it does seem pretty clear to me that no one in the current world situation could have made a giant leap of difference to the lives of most every day Americans (sure… ‘tell that to someone unemployed’ you say… but I am talking here on a grand scale). Sadly we do vote for ourselves, and our friends, and our situation and looking around, on an economic level I don’t see anyone changing the lives and happiness of those Americans I see by ‘fixing the economy’ on such a scale that it out-weighs the difference social change could make.

This point was first brought home to me when I was hiking with a girl (let’s call her Hot-Stuff A) living in Colorado. She was given great job offers at my Alabama institution and I said to her “Come on, you have to be tempted to take one up, right?”. She looked at me and said: “I can’t. I simply can’t. I am married to a woman, and she would have no rights. No protection.” I was floored, because I suddenly realized it was true. Hot-Stuff A is indeed married to Hot-Stuff B. If they moved to Alabama, both could legally be fired for being gay. Unlikely, but LIKELY s that Hot-stuff B could be denied healthcare, because Healthcare policies are allowed to only be extended to spouses ‘as recognized by the state of X’. Alabama does not recognize gay marriage. So Hot-Stuff B could, and would, be denied it. Furthermore if either got sick, their life long partner could be denied hospital visitation rights: because they are not recognized as family. Their wills could not be recognized, or legally contested by family, because in the eyes of Alabama these girls are not married, and so not family.

That’s bad. That causes actually misery and pain. Britain may wrangle about whether gay people are ‘married’ or in a ‘civil partnership’ but they do not wrangle over basic civil rights. I was horrified, horrified, that two law-abiding people were prisoners in their own state, because they happen to love someone of the same sex.

It was, really shocking to me. And I think it was the turning point. I opened my eyes to the media portraying real, and horrendous stories of people in these situations and saw the misery it caused.

Then I met a girl, a single-Mom at my new job. She works hard. She is what the rightest-of right would call a maker, not a taker. Her 13 year old girl has a genetic condition. The 13 year old (not that it should matter) is a very smart, very functioning girl – I think I last saw her reading an adult book. A very smart, very functioning, very happy and productive 13 year old, who happens to have expensive physical needs. That’s crummy enough, but the Mum was offered another job, and couldn’t take it, because the insurance offered with the job did not cover pre-existing conditions.

So… she could not advance her career, she could not make more money (be more of a ‘maker’), because she could not guarantee her daughter adequate healthcare (she would earn too much for Medicaid in that State). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Mum told me that she had sat down and worked out that the daughter would exceed her lifetime maximum by the time she was 17. What is this lifetime maximum of which you speak? I hear you Brits say. Oh… well, that is the maximum U.T.’s health insurance will pay out, over a lifetime, for any one person. I.e. at 17 this girl will have no medical coverage. No guarantee of such. I can’t even imagine what it is like to be facing that, at her mother.

Another case: when signing up for health benefits I met a lady from CA who had moved because her cancer treatment exceeded the cost her insurance company would pay. U.T. did accept pre-existing conditions, so she moved here to get it covered. Let me spell it out: the woman had breast cancer. She was afraid of dying. She had to move across the country, away from her friends and family, support and medical doctors to be able to afford treatment.

I looked around and really saw that some social change could make a whole lot of difference to people’s lives. I may not think ObamaCare is the best solution. But it is, at least, a solution. ‘Repeal and Replace’ with some unclear (and frankly untrustworthy) hazy guidelines is not a solution. ObamaCare will at least improve the lives of these individuals. Immeasurably. More than I think an upswing in the economy – or at least, more than I think an upswing in the economy attributable to just one person / one party – could do.

I don’t have time to write about all the cases I have met / discovered. People unable to get safe abortions (do I ‘agree’ with abortion? No. Would I ever deny anyone their right to follow their own ethical code and chose? No.). Kids committing suicide because many politicians in the US want to send out the message ‘being gay is wrong’ (according to who? YOUR God? That is not MY God? What if I don’t believe in God?). Ryan who signed a bill trying to make IVF and IUDs illegal. Endless examples of people’s lives getting worse that Obama would make better.

And lest you think I support Obama because I am a do-gooder only looking out for others, let me assure you, this is not the case. Because then, then, it got personal.

First I went to get birth control for my impending marriage. My insurance company didn’t cover the IUS / IUD (‘tiz abortion, doncha know. Sigh.). I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I got a prescription for valium and some hormones that sent me insane. I gave up on those (it was either that or give up on my marriage… which nearly happened as I went so loopy) and failed to find an affordable solution. By January I was still saving up for the cost of an IUD. By February I was pregnant. Nuff said.

I moved to Texas in June. 4 months pregnant. Not sure why, but I suffered pre-term labor. Sadly, Texas doesn’t cover individuals healthcare when they first move. I had only a ‘help hotline’ to call. I spent many night in tears, scared I was losing my baby, until my coverage kicked in. It worked out well, but for the first time I was forced to face the consequence of putting healthcare in the hands of money-makers with minimal regulations: the loss of people’s children.

Then I was denied maternity leave. FMLA doesn’t kick in as I have not been at U.T. long enough, and anyway, I am the only earner. I can’t go unpaid for 3 months. Luckily, I have a very flexible job, which I can do from home, and very kind and understanding mentors and bosses. We have figured it out. But there was no guarantee of that. The suggestion of healthcare companies I called trying to find short term insurance coverage for pregnancy (which is, of course, a pre-existing condition)? “Don’t change jobs”. Ah, so stay at a lower status, lower paid job and lose the opportunity to do well (academic jobs are scarce) because I am a woman? I see.

Oh, and I find out that C-sections are considered by some insurance companies to be a pre-existing condition. So, should I have one, I may have to make the decision: change jobs and not have children (because their birth would not be covered, and I am not sure I’ll ever have a spare $30,000 lying around), or stay where I am and have the possibility of more children. So, essentially: my career will be held back, because I am a woman. Because – I don’t see men having to make this choice… I suppose they may have to make it on their wife’s behalf. But, overall, I still see this as a woman’s rights issue.

I also have written about this before. I am sick of being told how to live out my religion. Yes, I am Christian. Yes, in my eyes I am a practicing Christian. But no, in my eyes, this does not mean gay marriage should be illegal (if Christians are harping on about the term ‘marriage’ know it was around before the Bible. So just get another term. Let gay people be married, and straight Christians be ‘Bible-married’ or whatever, just don’t base rights on that). I am used to being in a country where I am able to choose how I live my religion (no, I won’t have an abortion, yes, I will attend a gay friend’s wedding) and not told that my interpretation is wrong. I have never lost so much religious freedom as a Christian as when I came to the US.

So, I guess I looked at the options. And, no, I don’t think Obama is perfect. No, I don’t think he has done the perfect job. Nor necessarily the very best. But he has done something, and he will reach in and improve the lives of many – far more than Romney will. Romney will not make changes that affect so many people’s lives this profoundly – is my belief.

So why do I write all this? Well, thinking it through made me realize two things, that made me happier.

(1) I don’t have to hate all Republican supporters.

This is my “sorry I was an ass-hat for 6 months” moment.

I always realized that there were many Democrats I did not agree with, and did not respect. But, I found it hard to see the flip side with Republican-supporters. That there are some I realy can respect and love. There are still many Republican supporters I do not agree with, and pray hard not to judge (no… I really do). But there are also many who would like to see the problems above ‘fixed’, they just don’t have the ‘at any cost’ stance that I do. Or, they don’t think Obama can fix them. Or they think Romney can. Or they just prioritize differently.

I  fully admit there are many worthy and good causes I just don’t feel passionately enough to be swayed by: saving the environment is one of them. It is not a good thing, but it is true. I try to recycle, I try to minimize waste, I am happy to do my part. But I am not going to seriously put myself out, and  don’t really care about it (sorry 😦 ). It is what it is. People can have different priorities and can be just as compassionate. Who is to say which priorities are ‘right’ or ‘more worthy’. Not me guv’nor.

So, thinking through calmly and logically helped me remove my animosity to some people I dearly love. And I am sorry if I seemed mean or judgmental of you before – truly. That is indeed not how I live out my faith.

(2) It helped me navigate the insane media circus that is the US at election time.

Seriously Brits, think of the mud-slinging we do to our celebs. The US is actually nicer to its celebs than we are, but seems to treat its politicians as we treat Jordan. The US media at election time is an ugly, ugly place. And I used to read all the left media and get so outraged and angry at the right. Furious. Upset to tears. Almost beyond reconciling. The right does it too… and then I would get mad at how misrepresented the left was.

Then, I realised that 1/2 of what the media was up in a furor about, I didn’t care about. Do I care that Tagg Romney said he wanted to punch Obama? No. Looking above, that has nothing to do with why I support Obama.

Do I care that Mitt Romney said the humorous comment that he was brought “binders full of women”? No. He mispoke, but it was a debate and I don’t think the hysterical interpretation was what was in his heart. But I do care that when asked the question of what he would do to help women’s equality, he basically said “I’ll create more jobs in general and women can then have access to them” because that does not even touch on what bothers me so much about women’s rights (or lack of) as laid out above.

So, that is how I became an Obama supporter. But that is also how thinking through why that happened helped me be a little happier.

Oh, and to all those who want to say ‘If America is so tough for you: GO HOME’ I do understand your viewpoint. And I don’t mean to whale on America. There are a lot of great things here, and this country has been good to me. And, much as I appreciate a lot about this country, I would like to go home, very much. Indeed, I got married under the supposition that that would likely happen. But my husband examined it some more, and if I did go, I could have to choose between him and my country, and I couldn’t legally take my child. So, while I may have annoyed you, please have some sympathy too. I am not sure I wouldn’t live my life a little differently if I had known this is how it would end up.

On a more positive note, here is the top Google image for the search ‘cutest kitten ever”:


Image credits

http://egbertowillies.com/2012/10/10/jon-stewart-deconstructs-mitt-romneys-promisesliesjournalists-no-longer-serve-their-purpose-video/

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/05/11/stephen-colbert-slams-anti-gay-christians/
http://cutestkittenever.tumblr.com/ <— check this website out.

What I miss most about Britain

or… how America turned me into an activist.


I am often asked what I miss most about Britain, and have been since I first landed in the good old US of A. I knew I missed something big, but I could not put my finger on it. So, I often answered very flippantly: ‘Marmite‘,

or ‘Ribena

or, perhaps if I was talking to someone older and wiser: ‘my friends and family’.

I do of course miss those. Especially my friends and family, but that never quite summed up the ache in my heart. I wondered if it was bigger: public transport?

Again, I do miss that, but the answer isn’t satisfactory. Again, while I applaud and support the development of a wider public transport system I can be happy without it. There is something I find it difficult to be happy and content without, and that I have yet to find here in America:

Being trusted, protected and respected. And because of that, we are to some extent: humble.

Hmmm… let me elaborate with some examples:

In the UK, believe it or not, people do have a fairly strong personal moral codes, that encompass all the current political ‘hot topics’ from abortion, to homosexuality, to healthcare, to contraception. But that is the key: they are personal moral codes. That is: yes, contraception is as easy to get as candy – for everyone. The young, straight, gay, unmarried, old, married, male, female, rich, poor and all alike. That isn’t to say that everyone is encouraged to be ‘at it’ all the time: some people are indeed so, and some people are not. We are trusted to make my own decisions about our sexual relationships, and protected as much as possible from any consequences.

My personal story is that I decided sex before marriage was not the course for me. Then I decided to have sex before marriage, then I later changed my mind and stopped, after deciding through personal conversations with God, that it hadn’t been the best choice for me, and as my husband put it, He had ‘kicked my tail’ for it :). In England was respected for all these decisions (even though at very step of the way someone didn’t agree with them), and I was protected from any consequences. By the law, and by society (including by my parents). People are humble enough to accept that they do not know the right answer for individuals, or for society, or certainly for God, and so individuals are given all the tools they can be provided with make their own decisions, with minimal negative consequences.

I findthe moralizing and judging that goes on in America very difficult. When I expressed the view that contraception should be freely available to all, one outraged response was “Why should *I* pay for *you* to have sex??” – the implication being that sex before marriage (or sex at all – who knows) was not this person’s choice, so why should they financially support my choice if it was different? Because, here is the thing: we all make choices, and we all make choices that others disagree with and have to pay for. Whether it is the food we eat, the dangerous sports we play, the people we sleep with, the lack of exercise we undertake, the lack of sleep we get, the speed of our car, the stress of our job, our plans to travel, our decision to be married (or not): all of these are decisions that likely will affect our health and in the UK there is no moral judgement about which choices you make. Again, you are trusted to make your own decisions, and protected from them. I was so saddened today to read of doctors in America turning away patients over 200lbs: how can that be acceptable? How can you judge that you won’t help these people, but those with stressful jobs you will? Were any ‘decisions’ really made?? And if they were, who made the worse decisions? And can’t we be humble in recognizing our own mistakes and helping protect people from theirs?

This is how I arrived at my stance on abortion. Yes, personally I think it is wrong. I am: anti-abortion. But, I would never take away someone’s right to make that decision themselves: I am pro-choice. And I would never judge someone who had suffered through an abortion. Were you a friend who came t me in need, I would support, and respect you and care for you. I am anti-abortion for me. I am pro-choice for everyone. When does life ‘start’ – how should I know? How should anyone, except God, know? If you don’t believe in God then look to Scientists, or feelings, or some other deities. Either way: there is no answer. Be humble enough to know that you do not know, and trust yourself to follow your own moral / personal code, and respect other people enough to decide theirs.

I guess I miss this trust, respect, protection and humility and how it reflects on my faith as well. To me: faith is very personal decision. The cornerstone of my Christianity is a deeply personal relationship with God. I don’t think I have got it ‘right’ (other than that I love Him above all others, and am forever grateful He sent His only Son to die for my sins), but I don’t like (1) being told how to live my faith and life and (2) being judged and punished by anyone but God when it doesn’t conform to their perceptions of what my faith / life should be. My reading of the Bible is that it is outside the law: so the law should extend complete equality and a basic code of rights to all law abiding citizens, and one’s relationship to God is what decides how you choose live within that. Isn’t that ultimate freedom?

You know – I don’t agree that God asks for no contraception and no masturbation. But, I respect that some Christians do, and I will protect their right to execute these choices. I am humble enough to think: maybe they are right, but I trust myself to be guided in my own moral code (it of course, doesn’t have to be a religious code). I also *do* personally think that God asks us not to look at pornographic images, but I acknowledge I could be wrong, and respect people who do such, and certainly am humble enough NOT to judge them. Hence, much as I don’t really like the porn industry, I would not seek to punish people for accessing it. I might seek to educate and protect but as maybe I am wrong, and pornography is the healthiest thing for mankind: I would not deny others access.

I guess a good exemplary of this, is how the UK taught me about the whole creationism / evolution debate. We learned about evolution in Science. We learned about the support for evolution, and we learned about the phenomena evolution perhaps could not explain, and the criticisms leveled at evolution science. We were told that evolution was studied in Science because it was a Scientifically testable theory, but the completing theory was not, and so the alternative was mentioned in Science, but we would learn about that in Religion. Almost simultaneously, in Religious Studies, we were were taught about creationism and the arguments for / against, including again, the criticisms  leveled at evolution. (We were also taught some non-Christian but religious creation arguments). We were supplied with the facts, told that no one knows the answer, and trusted to make up our own mind. My ‘mind’ and opinion evolved (pardon the pun) over time, but it never caused me much distress. When we covered this topic in Bible group we listened to people defend and criticize the Biblical view of creation, and to people try to synthesize the two. All views were respected as potentially correct.

And through all this, I have friends who have made utterly different decisions to me: health wise, sex wise, religion wise. I love and respect them all: I don’t think either one of us is ‘better’ than the other. I do think those who do not believe that Jesus died for our sins are not going to heaven – and while this is sad, this does make me think I am better person, or that I have any right to tell them how to live their life (incidentally, much as they love me, many of them think I am gullible at best and a crazy ‘magical thinker’ at worst 🙂 ). We just all live our lives, respecting each other’s choices, and trying to protect our loved ones from any potential consequences of their decisions.

The upshot of this is that Christians are not really hated in England. I was shocked when people in America seemed to get angry or passionately against Christians. How can you be so against peaceful (now… history is a bit different, tiz true) people, who are told to – above all else – love each other. Then I totally saw why: some Christians are trying to force a life on people, based on a belief system these people don’t have! Good grief! I would hate Catholics if they took my contraception away! I would equally have hated atheists if they had insisted I had sex before marriage (returned to. Ahem.). And, I think some Christians are trying to impinge on my personal relationship to God, by telling me how to live out that relationship, when the only voice I want to hear about that comes from God Himself. Not saying I will get it right… but I have no reason to think you will do a better job, either.

A more succinct summary of my views.

So, that is what I miss in the UK. I miss freedom to practice my faith in my way. I miss respect for my religious choices. I miss respect for my non religious choices. I miss a law system in which I am afforded equality and power and protection from the consequences of choices – be they mistakes or not – and a society that trusts me to make my own decisions within that.

I think my most passionate wish at the moment is that my child be bought up to respect and trust other people’s decisions, and to never judge law-abiding others as ‘wrong’, or deny them equality for these decisions. And to feel free to make his own decisions about his life, and his body and his views as he feels is right for him.

Image credits:

http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/gb.html

http://nannyknowsbest.blogspot.com/2011/05/dangers-of-marmite.html

http://offriendsfoodandfun.blogspot.com/2010/08/homemade-snake-bite-d.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-decker_bus

My Christian Perspective on the Chik-Fil-A debacle

Ah, America. Your panties are in a bunch again. As are mine, to be fair. But, I have had time to pray, think, read, sleep on it, cry, laugh, cry some more, and now, maybe, put it to bed. This post is my catharsis before I, also, go to bed.

First, a quick primer for the non-US readers out there. What happened with Chik-Fil-A this week? Well… Chik-Fil-A are a Southern-US originating fast food chain. I understand that they make delicious fried chicken. This is apparently not up for dispute. Their stance, and more importantly, practices towards homosexuals has been up for debate for years: when my ex-officemate first arrived in my office she asked me not to judge her for giving in to a random craving and having some chicken fingers from Chik-Fil-A.

Anyway, in the last week the CEO came out and reaffirmed his stance he absolutely defended “the biblical definition of the family unit”. Trust me that the CEO’s implication that he does not support, and will seek to prevent, any other versions of marriage: including post-divorce marriage (or divorce at all) and gay-marriage. Plus, much of Chik-Fil-A’s profits (and I purposely use the ambiguous term ‘much’ because the exact % depends on your source) goes to the WinShape foundation, which among other (sometimes positive) activities fights gay rights.

So, with the CEO recently reaffirming his stance, it all came to a head and it was said that if you support gay rights (i.e. equality for gay people), you should not eat at Chik-fil-A. Which, to me, seemed fair enough. The backlash came when Mike Huckabee said “Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles [and] the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1. Too often… if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant…. Simply affirm appreciation for a company run by Christian principle [and eat at Chik-Fil-A on Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day] [Read more].

In effect, Mike is saying “make a stance that you oppose equality for homosexuals”. I am sure many Brits may find that hard to believe, as in general, Britain does not have such vociferous calls against equality. But. Trust me. In the US, and the South particularly, the voice is all too strong.

Here are my last remaining thoughts on the matter:

1. Brits (and some Americans): To understand why this is such a contentious issue, you do need to understand how extreme the inequality between homo- and hetero- sexuals can be.

2. Americans (and some Brits): Make no mistake, this has absolutely NOTHING to do with defending the first amendment (freedom of speech).

3. As a Christian I feel absolutely no compunction to ‘oppress’ or ‘prevent’ gay marriage. But,

4. As a Christian I feel absolutely compelled to extend equality of rights to all.

5. Americans: You do know that your laws are NOT supposed to be based on religion: right?

OK, in a little more detail:

1. Brits (and some Americans): To understand why this is such a contentious issue, you do need to understand how extreme the inequality between homo- and hetero- sexuals can be.

I think I will only need to say 2 things here to really knock the wind out of my fellow Anglos (and probably upset them quite a bit):

A. In 28 States it is legal to fire someone just for being gay. I am serious. And people oppose overturning that legislation. Let me just repeat that because it may be so shocking that it does not sink in: In 28 States it is legal to fire someone just for being gay.

B. Healthcare is (famously) not universal and expensive beyond belief. As healthcare is often employer-sponsored, employers in at least 28 states have the right to deny the legal partners / spouses of gay employees healthcare. That is, in over 1/2 of American states, if you are a man (or woman) who does not work (or is self employed, or is a carer or provides daycare for your children) but is married to someone of the same gender who does – you can be denied basic healthcare that a heterosexual person would get. Healthcare. HEALTHCARE, people. No healthcare for being gay.

These things blow my mind away. I hope they do yours too.

So. It this whole debacle is not a trivial thing. Point 2:

2. Americans (and some Brits): Make no mistake, this has absolutely NOTHING to do with defending the first amendment (freedom of speech).

Perhaps embarrassed by the real reason people want to take a stance against Chik-Fil-A some have started to bleat “But I am defending free speech”. YOU. ARE. NOT. I doubt any rational opposer to Chik-Fil-A is actually saying “Gee, I wish the CEO of Chik-Fil-A hadn’t been allowed to say that, so that I could eat my burger in peace and not worry that my money was being funneled to anti gay groups. Gee, I really wish I could support business who are totally against my beliefs and values, just without knowing it”.

Get real.

What opposers to Chik-Fil-A are actually doing is DEFENDING the First Amendment, because the whole damn reason the free speech can work in a civilized (ha!) society is that people can then vote with their feet, or their mouths, or their chicken. It works because people have the freedom to say “hey, this company is totally out of line with my values. I ain’t putting my money there”. I suspect, more Chik-Fil-A opposers would like more companies to openly declare their policies so they could decide where to frequent. i.e More Free Speech. So. Shut up about your first amendment.*

OK, so onto the actual issue: should Christians be making efforts to oppose gay marriage? This is trickier one, and clearly above is fact, and below will be my perspective:

3. As a Christian I feel absolutely no compunction to ‘oppress’ or ‘prevent’ gay marriage.

I will openly admit, with apologies to anyone I offend, that I do not know if God opposes / does not recognize / is hurt by homosexuality / gay marriage. I am fairly sure I can axe all of Leviticus in terms of an ‘instruction manual for living life after the resurrection of Christ’. In fact, the whole Old Testament. It is a useful historical lesson, but let’s face it: a whole bunch is, seemly at random, chucked out (anyone now being forced to marry their dead husband’s brother? Anyone now being stoned for cussing?)? And let’s also face that the God-man relationship was not exactly rockstar at this point. He didn’t send down his only Son and then sacrifice him for funzies. He sent Him down because we (man) were a mess. And let’s note, that he didn’t send down someone to radically enforce the Old Testament laws. He send someone down who scrapped a lot of them: circumcision, food regulations and whatnot. So, I am not convinced you can live by this. The New Testament is less clear, and notably: Jesus was silent on the matter.

So: I don’t know. Luckily for me, I don’t need to know, because I was (am) in love with a man, and got to spend the rest of my life with him. As for others: not really my business. I have way too many (way too many) sins of my own to start worrying about the potential sins of others. Especially those sins that I don’t know for sure are sins. I mean, were I perfect: maybe I could turn outward a little more. But, my the definition of the fall of man I am not. By that definition: I am sinful. So, I really don’t have the right or impulse to judge others, who are the same as me. Let he without sin cast the first stone and all of that.

I have zero idea what Judgement Day will look like. But, I am pretty sure I will be too busy answering questions about why I couldn’t forgive and love all my fellow man? Why I did have sex before marriage (although I gave that up…)? Why I didn’t honor my parents at all times? Maybe: why do I have lustful thoughts for other women (and Channing Tatum. And John Stewart)? And suchlike. Really: by definition of the fall of man I’ll be having a whole load of repenting of my own to do: it is going to get out of control if I also have to repent for the sins of others.

I would ask other Christians to consider the same: and if you think ‘homosexuality’ is a ‘special’ sin because people don’t repent and continue to live in sin. I ask you this: are you divorced? Are you remarried? Do you hold on to jealousy or hatred? Maybe you too should be fired from your job at will. Or maybe, you should recognise that IF you think homosexuality is a sin (and I am not sure I do) that you are just as much a sinner, yet you get all sorts of wonderful legal rights, and God’s forgiveness.

So, then as I don’t feel compelled to be arrogant enough to decide I know God’s will, and prevent ‘sin’ in others, so also:

4. As a Christian I feel absolutely compelled to extend equality of rights to all.

Little bit of love people. Little bit of love. Let’s not deny healthcare and employment rights to people who are in sin as much as us. We all sin. We are all fallen. We are all trying to figure it out. I don’t recall Jesus denying food or healing to anyone… so let’s not do the same ourselves – K?

Of course, all this is slightly irrelevant (just random ramblings on my own version of Christianity) when you realize:

5. Americans: You do know that your laws are NOT supposed to be based on religion: right?

Think about that for a while.

And a bit more.

Think again.

So – legal rights should be outside of your religious views / opinion / beliefs. You know that a lot of straight people in the US are married in an a-religious ceremony, with no involvement or invocation of God, are atheist and get all the rights afforded to those who have a marriage based on Christianity? Equally, you know many people are married in a church NOT fitting the Bible’s definition of marriage? And those who the church won’t marry (say : you’re on your 6th marriage) still do get married and have all the rights of all married people? BECAUSE YOU SHOULDN’T DENY PEOPLE RIGHTS BASED ON THE BIBLE, AND NOT LAW.

Or, as this more accurately comes down to:

You should not SELECTIVELY deny groups of people WHOSE SIN YOU PERSONALLY DON’T LIKE, right, based on YOUR INTERPRETATION of the Bible, and not the laws of your land.

Really.

Think about this one.

And you will realise that Chik-Fil-A are assholes, and probably quite poor Christians. And if you make an effort to support them… well.. you can figure out the rest…

But, do enjoy your burger.

*Yes, several mayors then tried to impinge on the first amendment by ‘banning’ Chik-Fil-A from their cities. If you ever thought this could seriously happen, or be considered legal, then you need help. It also had nothing to do with Mike Huckabee’s original call.

A few of my thoughts on gay marriage

The issue of legalizing gay marriage has made me realise a few things about myself. I assumed that it was a simple equality issue, and so it was right to legalize gay marriage. But, I have realized that it is not a black-and-white right-and-wrong issue to me. To me there is no clear cut right answer, and only opinions on what is best / fair / the right thing to do.

So, NY has legalized gay marriage. Hoorah! I am very happy for this news. Here are some of my thoughts as to why I personally would like Alabama to follow suit and legalize gay marriage.

To me, it is not clear about whether the Bible is against homosexuality or not.

One of the main oppositions I encounter in AL to legalizing gay marriage is that the Bible is anti-gay relations. Well, my problem here is that I don’t know the Bible well enough (and would welcome any thoughts on this). I used to think the ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ story was where the Bible explicitly stated the Christian stance against homosexuality. Until I actually read it (now there is an idea). When I read it, my own personal interpretation (which is shared by others) that it was the general debauchery that was problematic, and the main criticism levied against the inhabitants of Sodom was their unwillingness to welcome an outsider. Let us not forget that they wanted to rape the visitor – and that this presumably was a great sin. It’s just not clear to me that the homosexuality was a sin. It is also not clear to me why, if it was, this part of the old testament is still relevant, when we abandon so many other parts under the new covenant.

I am similarly unclear on other parts of the Bible and the stance on homosexuality. The Bible is hugely complex and I don’t think gives us lift off the page answers on many things.

I honestly don’t know what God asks of us on this front. But let us assume, for a minute, that the Bible is anti homosexual relationships. That it is an affront to God. I still think Alabama should legalize gay marriage.

My personal belief is that the value of marriage is less about gender relations, and more about respecting individuals who commit to another, in a loving and faithful fashion.

Even if there are things in a relationship we don’t personally agree are good life choices, I think you can still respect and honour two individuals who commit to a loving relationship, and recognize this as something you promote and support, in its own right. I respect family bonds, and people who work hard to maintain a family. I believe this is a tough thing to do, and I could only commit to marrying someone, and in my heart believe it was a lifelong commitment, if I knew God would help me maintain that commitment. I personally don’t think that I am strong enough to do it without His love and support. I happily respect any union that is aimed at the same goal: of making a stable and lifelong family, which I believe is a Godly endeavor (although you can execute it without God and I still support that), and accepting and negotiating all the personal sacrifices one has to make in that quest.

Thus, I don’t believe that legalizing gay marriage is the start of some slippery slope, and we ‘just don’t know where it will end’.

I understand some people feel this: legalizing gay marriage is just another step in the decline of the sanctity of marriage. And a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step. However, I believe that legalizing gay marriage is the exact opposite: it is to me, respecting the sanctity of marriage for what it is supposed to be, and what so many heterosexual couples fail to make it: a lifelong loving commitment. Heterosexuals have made a mess of the institution of marriage – it is always a union between a man and a woman, but only 50% of the time is it a lifelong commitment as promised (a lot of the time it isn’t even loving). I honestly think this a way of redeeming it.

Maybe these views reflect another view of mine: I don’t believe marriage is for everybody. And it makes me cross that some sectors of society still hold it up as a goal to be strived for at all costs. My personal opinion is that if it is not for you – for whatever reason – then you should never, ever feel pressured into doing it for legal / societal norm reasons. I think a lot of heartache could be saved if people didn’t assume that marriage was inevitable, and if people didn’t treat news of engagements / weddings as the attainment of some lofty goal (I famously was PISSED that I got more congratulations for getting married than I did for passing my PhD).To me, it is not a goal, or an achievement, but a reflection of a commitment and lifestyle choice that is made with good loving intentions, and hard to maintain. I respect people who are brave enough not make that commitment, just I respect ALL who are brave enough to make it.

I am a practicing Christian, and I am not 100% sure on where God stands on homosexuality. However, I do know I sin every day – sometimes accidentally, sometimes as an active decision. I don’t think it is my right or my place to grade sins, and decide some are better or worse than others, but I do think it is my Christian duty to be as graceful as possible, as loving as possible, and to support Christian values, such as loving faithful relationships wherever they occur.

Plus of course, marriage can be an entirely legal, and non Christian endeavour.

I found it was, more often than not, in AL  than the UK. Many people have an a-religious ceremony. So if a man and woman can do that, and make a commitment without God, why can’t two men or two women? So: go NY, I think you did an awesome thing.

I don’t know when my blog got so political. I entirely blame my new officemate and intend to return to writing about cats and dieting shortly 🙂