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Acceptance September 23, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Church, Life, Mental Health.
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16 comments

THIS POST is for all my friends in the madosphere, those amazing people blogging, facebooking and tweeting their way through the traumas of mental illness: you know who you are and I salute you. But mostly it’s for Karita, whose recent posts DistasteStuntedHonesty and Lies – Part the Second and Honesty and Lies have set me thinking.

It’s a strange business, the way our society treats people with mental health problems, almost like lepers … perhaps even worse than lepers: leprosy is a disease that you can identify, pin down to a particular bacterium, and treat. But mental illnesses come in all sorts of guises and all too often, it seems, even health professionals don’t know how to deal with them and people struggling with mental illness find themselves sidelined or stigmatised.

Part of it comes down to fear, of course: fear of what may be lurking inside our own minds, sometimes hidden just below the surface, sometimes buried deeper within. Fear of looking into the abyss of the human mind and having to face up to the fact that when push comes to shove, we’re all the same. Then there’s pride: the foolish belief that somehow I am above these problems, that mental illness is a sign of weakness when in fact it’s simply part of being human, no more a sign of personal weakness or failure than cancer is a sign of physical weakness or failure. I think A Broader Mark summed things up well when she left this comment here the other day:

I’m beginning to suspect it’s their own pain that people can’t accept. Maybe they avoid looking at the pain of others because it reminds them of their own pain – forces them to see that they’re just as human as the next guy. Everyone hurts (almost always more than other people know, I suspect); it’s the human condition – there ain’t no escaping it.

It seems to be even worse in some Christian circles: many Christians seem to think that they shouldn’t be mentally ill, shouldn’t suffer from depression or anxiety or personality disorders or any of the other 1001 or more manifestations of mental illness. They’ve been taught to believe that Jesus will make all their problems go away and if their problems don’t go away then it must be their fault somehow because if they really, truly trusted in Jesus then their problems would be solved. Sing another sycophantic “God is Great” happy song and all will be well. Forgive my bluntness, but that’s complete bullshit. In fact, it’s worse than bullshit: at least with bullshit you can use it as fertiliser — but with complete cockamamy beliefs like that, there’s nothing useful you can do at all: you just have to throw them out of the window and hope there’s no one standing underneath…

Simple fact: Christians are screwed up human beings the same as everyone else. What Jesus offers to those who can or will accept it is acceptance itself and a bit of light in the darkness. What he doesn’t do is turn the light off or walk away or snuff out a flickering candle or break off a broken reed. Instead, he sits down beside the flickering and broken ones and gently puts an arm around their shoulders and says, lean on me. Then, together, with him wearing his crown of thorns that people like me awarded him for being our champion, they weep. Maybe they struggle to their feet and stagger a few steps together … he has bloody, broken feet because people like me smashed nails through them when he wouldn’t make like the God we wanted him to be, so it’s one hell of a journey…

But the important thing is, it’s a journey; and we’re all in it together. A broken god come to the rescue of a broken humanity. An impossible journey. But one that I happen to think is worth taking — and which I count it a privilege to share with anyone who has travelled this far with me. And if you, dear reader, aren’t religiously inclined, don’t worry about it: the god I believe in isn’t religious either and doesn’t give a fig about what you believe about him — what counts is he believes in you; and he does, my friend, he does…

Did I mention his hands are broken too?

A New Beginning September 20, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
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7 comments
Sainsbury's, Biggleswade

Sainsbury's, Biggleswade

THIS is where I start work today. They’ve given the store a major overhaul in anticipation of my arrival: it reopened on Tuesday last week, extended from 28,000 sq ft to 45,000 sq ft. I’ll be one of a new intake of 53 new staff on the team.

It’s within walking distance of home and I am so looking forward to not having that 2-hour each way commute through London — not to mention the saving in travel costs (though it may cost me a few bob in shoe leather).

Join the conversation on facebook

(and if anyone’s wondering, no, this doesn’t spell the end of my involvement in the Christian book trade: UKCBD and the Christian Bookshops Blog goes on).

The hardest part wasn’t letting go, it was closing the door September 17, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Life.
Tags: , , ,
14 comments

The hardest part wasn’t letting go, it was closing the door.

It tore me apart. 2pm: closing time. I fetched the display stands in then went to the door — and couldn’t close it. The finality hit me: this was the last time I’d be closing that door and I’d never be opening it again.

I stood outside. I wandered back in. I went out again. I went over to the reception desk, just across from the shop doorway, and made some small talk with Juliette, the receptionist. I couldn’t tell her what was wrong, just sort of looked at her and looked around hopelessly, blinking back tears.

A student wandered by. He was unaware of what was going on. Juliette told him it was my last day. We shook hands and wished one another well.

Peter, the school accountant, came down. We were due to run through the invoicing procedures with Nick but Nick wasn’t back from his lunchbreak. I told Peter what was wrong and only just managed not to burst into tears. He put a hand on my shoulder but he looked as lost as I felt and said he’d come back later.

I stood just outside the shop doorway. This was it. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to close the door.

Then David, my former line manager, came by. He understood. He came into the shop with me and we closed the door. At least, I think that’s what happened. Maybe he stood outside or in the doorway, but we agreed to keep in touch and the door was closed.

Another interlude from Coldplay: My song is love…

Now… how does it feel now? A deep sadness, with more questions than answers. I’ve wanted to leave for over a year now but still, somehow, it breaks my heart. I see my colleagues, brothers, sisters but above all friends and it seems that these beautiful people are set adrift on an ocean of uncertainty, thrown about in the wind and the waves.

In the midst of that uncertainty I ask: when Jesus was caught out in a storm, how many of the disciples did he throw overboard?

I ask: what is this institution, London School of Theology — and why? To me LST’s purpose can be summed up in three words: equipping God’s people. That’s what it’s about, that’s why so many of us down the years have given so much of ourselves to it, and what so many of us have gained from it.

And today, it hurts.

The Hardest Part September 15, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Life, Watching and Waiting.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

Coldplay: The Hardest Part: my theme tune for this week.

The video’s kinda weird but no weirder than LST: the age old story of the Bible dancing with a 21st century theological institution. Impossible, you might think, but the dance goes on.

It’s the lyrics that really hit the spot, though, that say how I feel about this letting go…

And the hardest part
Was letting go not taking part
Was the hardest part
And the strangest thing
Was waiting for that bell to ring
It was the strangest start

I could feel it go down
Bittersweet I could taste in my mouth
Silver lining the clouds
Oh and I
I wish that I could work it out

And the hardest part
Was letting go not taking part
You really broke my heart, oh
And I tried to sing
But I couldn’t think of anything
That was the hardest part, oh, oh

I could feel it go down
You left the sweetest taste in my mouth
Silver lining the cloud
Oh and I
Oh and I
I wonder what it’s all about
I wonder what it’s all about

Everything I know is wrong
Everything I do it just comes undone
And everything is torn apart
Oh, and that’s the hardest part
That’s the hardest part
Yeah, that’s the hardest part
That’s the hardest part

Lyrics quoted from coldplay.com

The Final Week September 13, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Watching and Waiting.
Tags: , , , , ,
6 comments
LST Books & Resources

LST Books & Resources

This is it. My final week as Bookshop Manager at London School of Theology. Just three days, in fact, as I’ll only be working Tuesday to Thursday and then it’s all over, left with my colleague and good friend Nick Aston to run the show.

It’s been an interesting time, these last few weeks, trying to tidy up as many loose ends as possible, notifying suppliers and others of my departure and showing Nick the tricks of the trade. For Nick it’s going to be a challenging time as he attempts to do all that I’ve been doing as well as his own job in less than half our combined hours: if you’re minded to pray, please keep him in mind as he’s going to need all the support he can get; and if you’re ever in Northwood looking for a book or a bar of fairtrade chocolate, please go pay him a visit.

It’s going to be a different shop and a different approach to running it when I’m gone, with the stock profile largely driven by faculty recommendations and course reading lists alongside a proposed increase in non-book product. Whereas I’ve always aimed to maintain an extensive backlist beyond the reading lists, perused publishers’ catalogues and met with reps to select new titles, it’s unlikely that Nick will have time for that, although time will tell, of course: who can say how things will pan out?

As for me, a part-time job in a local supermarket to keep a few pennies rolling in whilst I reorientate and focus my attention and energies on various web projects. There’s more than enough to keep me busy: the question is whether I can make it pay.

I also plan to devote some time to blogging in support of my madosphere friends: there’s far too much stigma and misunderstanding attached to mental illness where there should be respect and support for those who are battling these traumas. If you missed it, go read my post Meeting the Mentalists: awesome people, each and every one.

And finally: to all at LST, my friends and colleagues: it’s been a good ten years: I salute you. Or as the dolphins would say, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Some of my web projects…

Into the Madosphere: Some Mental Health Bloggers I Admire

Let there be Emma! September 1, 2010

Posted by Emma Jayne in Christianity, Life, Theological Reflection.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

OK, I know it’s kinda rash — but I like living dangerously and as much as anything I wanted to keep an eye on what these people are peddling to their younglings: the idea of thousands of teenagers all reading the Bible together sounds kinda scary — and awesome if it works. So I subscribed to the Soul Survivor Bible in One Year blog. Here’s Andy Croft getting carried away by the idea:

Today’s the day it all kicks off and I’m annoyed already. Doesn’t bode well really, does it? Here’s a happy clappy excerpt from Day 1, 1st September: Genesis, Matthew, Psalms, talking about Genesis 1.1 – 2.17:

This passage shows us God designed us the way we are. You’re not a mistake. God said let there be light, and there was light. He said let there be Andy and there was Andy, let there be Emma and there was Emma. Just as God looks at creation and thinks it’s good so too he looks at you and thinks you’re pretty great. We can enjoy his pleasure over us… in the same way we enjoy it when our parents or mates tell us we’re great.

Let there be Emma! Well yes, amen to that; love the affirmation of my being a gay Christian woman: not quite what I’d expected from the Evangelical frontline. Thanks guys. But really? Seriously? God designed us the way we are?? Forgive me if I fall about laughing, because that’s one God with a seriously warped sense of humour at best, if not an outright monster at worst.

So… God  designed us the way we are… God designed us to be susceptible to all kinds of sicknesses and diseases … which God also designed. God designed us with minds that fall apart under stress or trauma. God designed us to go mental at the flick of an invisible inner switch. God designed us to be tasty snacks for crocodiles, mosquitoes and piranhas … which God also designed. God designed us for life on a planet that’s ultimately gonna disappear in an amazing starburst as dear old Sol goes nova a few million years down the line… which we’re ruining in the meantime with our supposedly God-given talents to uproot and destroy, to the point where it’s likely to be uninhabitable long before that amazing starburst….

Yeah, right. Some God.

Wrong, wrong, wrong: #fail. And puh-leeese don’t give me mythology about “the Fall” and “sin” taking down the whole of creation by way of explanation, though I suppose we’ll get that within the next few days *sigh*

Sorry guys, but the universe does not hinge upon the human race. The claim that our mythical Adam & Eve rebelling against God in the Garden of Eden led to the corruption of the entire cosmos is simply breathtaking in its arrogance — like the belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth, only a billion times worse. You have only to open your eyes and look out at the vastness of the universe to begin to realise how puny and insignificant the human race is. We are specks of dust bouncing around on a bigger speck of dust in orbit around another speck of dust, albeit a hot one.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us like bloggers on WordPress, only on a much vaster, incomprehensible level. WordPress is a platform, with themes and widgets and all sorts of lovely-jubbly add-ons, with free hosting for the faithful here at WordPress.com and a standalone version for those who want to go it alone via WordPress.org. And we are invited to perform upon this platform. WordPress sets us free to blog as we will: they provide the platform; we provide the content … and somewhere out there, our readers join the dots and we become an amazing community in our social media matrix.

There are good bloggers and bad bloggers and there are every kind of blogger inbetween. There’s facebook and twitter and youtube and the list grows on and on. Platforms designed for us to dance on.

That’s God, my friends: the Ultimate Platform. Let’s dance!!

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