No, I’m not strong, but that’s ok.

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Remember you’re strong, they say. Remember all the stuff you’ve got through, you’ve survived… Well-intentioned social media memes, meant to encourage, but no, I can’t buy into this – I know the truth, I know how weak I really am, … Continue reading

Yom Kippur memories

This evening is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and I find myself thinking back.

One memory is from my childhood – my sister walking into the kitchen and asking our mother to show her some chocolates. Not the most obvious way of coping with a total fast, but hey…
Another memory is from later – my very early 20s – a rebellious meirav going to the beach and having a picnic, wanting to make my rebellion totally public. Just as I had a habit for a while of going to a non-kosher burger place in Tel Aviv during Passover and ordering a cheeseburger so that I could break three rules in one go: eating non-kosher meat, eating meat and cheese together (combining meat and dairy products is not allowed), and eating bread during Passover, when we’re supposed to eat only unleavened bread.
Why such rebellious acts? who was I rebelling against? not against God – I didn’t even know he existed. against my parents? not against my dad – he was a devout atheist and would have probably been proud of me. and I don’t think my mum would have been all that bothered, she has kept these customs mainly because that’s the tradition, not out of a serious belief that it’s important. so who was I rebelling against?
When you grow up as a Jew in Israel, you grow up with the tension between the religious minority and the secular majority, and if you are – as I was – part of the secular majority, then there’s a sense of injustice at how the religious minority force their customs onto you. This is down to our voting system – proportional representation is a great idea in theory, but in practice what it means is that no party has a large enough majority to form a stable government, so they’re at the mercy of the smaller parties; so after the elections we have a period of unpleasant horse trading, in which the religious parties, representing a small minority of the population, are able to dictate terms to the larger parties. So in the interests of forming a government, they agree to pass laws which the majority of the population do not want and did not vote for.
And so this afternoon a whole load of secular Israelis will have been rushing to get their shopping done before the shops close, and the shops are obliged to close whether the people working there observe the Yom Kippur fast or not. The same goes for every weekend – Friday afternoon the shops close early, and stay closed for the duration of Saturday. Public transport stops, so if you don’t have a car you can’t take the family on a fun day trip to enjoy the sea or the beauty of nature, so families stay cooped up at home getting bored. (Am wondering if now that there’s cable and satellite maybe at least there’s the option of watching TV – in my days we had only Israeli TV and that stopped for the Sabbath.) Lots of restaurants and cafรฉs are forced to close for the Sabbath not because of a legal requirement but because the rabbis threaten to revoke their kosher certificate if they don’t comply, which would mean losing the custom of anyone who won’t eat in a place that doesn’t have a kosher certificate. And there’s a whole load of complex issues as a result of marriage regulations – if you’re Jewish then you’re under the rabbis’ jurisdiction for anything to do with marriage, and there are all sorts of reasons why they won’t allow some people to marry, so some couples end up going off to neighbouring Cyprus to get married there.
Looking at all this from where I stand now, it saddens me because of how this stuff gets in the way of people getting to know God and finding out how wonderful he is – because forcing stuff onto people is a sure way of getting them to rebel, to turn away, to want nothing to do with any of it.
My prayer for my people on Yom Kippur is that some will, despite all the obstacles, come to know God for real.

different ways of being lazy

I’ve always been the sort of person who prefers the easy way of doing things. When I was living and working in London, with access to Oxford Street and all its shops every lunchtime, that meant buying things: ready-made meals for one, ready-made desserts in individual portions, even bags of prepared vegetables, peeled and sliced carrot batons, broccoli florets, shelled peas, mixtures of veg that were ready to just go in the microwave and accompany the ready-made individual-sized pie which I’d stick in the oven when I got home from work – ok, partly this was because I actually didn’t know how to cook… but partly this was the lifestyle I was living: rushing to work every day, always feeling short of time, and being surrounded by shops selling any kind of luxury, so basically I bought time, I paid money so that someone else would save me having to spend time on peeling carrots.

About a decade ago I left London and said goodbye to the rat race, and went to live with friends who run a small retreat house in a tiny little town in North Wales. One day my friend Maggie took me to visit her sister, who lived further out in the sticks, and her sister welcomed us with tea and scones. Home-made scones. “But, Babs, you don’t bake,” Maggie exclaimed in surprise. Her sister, who had some long-term health issues, explained that yes, she normally doesn’t, but she wasn’t feeling all that brilliant and wasn’t up to going all the way to the shops, so she decided to be lazy and make her own.
As someone who had recently arrived from London (and even before London, had always lived where there are shops within walking distance) this just cracked me up laughing. This is the difference, I thought, between town and country life – out in the sticks, where the shops are far away, the lazy option is to make your own.
Why am I suddenly thinking about this? Because last night I sat here and made a card to give my husband for our wedding anniversary. And I’m not generally a person who makes cards. I’m not naturally inclined towards that type of creativity – I’ve always been a words person, not a cut & paste or draw or paint person. But I’m not living in a place with lots of great shops within walking distance – no, we’re not out in the country, we live in a sprawly kind of town and the particular bit we’re in just isn’t brilliant on the shopping front. The town centre is about 10 minutes away by car, but then there’s the question of parking, which is very expensive, unless you’re willing to park far away from the shops and then walk for miles carrying your shopping back to the car. And I have a lot less energy than I did back in my London days. There is stuff that seems so easy when you’re in your thirties, but when you’re 49 it feels a bit of a chore.
So last night, like my friend’s sister back then who made her own scones, I chose the easy option and made my own greeting card.

How accurate is your watch?

So… the clocks go back tonight, and these days I do tend to remember… unlike one year, when I managed to spend the whole day out of synch with the world around me…

First, you’ll need a bit of background to follow this story.

It was sometime in the early 90s. I was living in a small town in Surrey, and attending the main Anglican church there, called St Andrew’s. They had a smaller sister church called St John’s, and evening service was sometimes held there. (In those days I used to get up in the morning and go to the main service – I guess I had more energy when I was younger…)

Oh, and the other detail that is crucial to the story is that the time of evening service was 6.30 for about half the year and 6pm for the other half.

Okay, now that you’ve got all that, sit comfortably and I’ll tell you what happened…

I woke up one Sunday morning in autumn, and thought, oops, I’ve overslept, I can’t make it to church this morning. So I stayed in, I don’t remember what I did all day but it didn’t involve switching on the television or the radio at any point.

Seeing as I’d missed morning service, I decided to go to St John’s in the evening. So off I go to St John’s, but I find the church shut and dark and there’s absolutely no sign of life. Strange, I think to myself, but maybe I made a mistake and it hasn’t changed to 6pm yet? Maybe we’re still on 6.30? Okay, I’ll go for a walk and come back.

So I go for a walk around my little town. I go through the high street and see that the Chinese takeaway is closed, which is strange because I know they open at 5.30pm on Sundays. Then I get to St Andrew’s, the main church, and the church clock is saying the wrong time! I’m beginning to get a weird feeling, like something terrible must have happened locally today and I’m the only one who hasn’t heard.

I go back to St John’s for the 6.30 service but it’s still dark and shut. Now what do I do? Okay, I’ll go home then.

So I head home, and on my way I bump into the two elderly sisters who hold the keys to St John’s. They’re just on their way to open up for the 6pm service.

And so, at what I thought was nearly 6.30pm, I discovered that I’d been an hour out for the whole day.

And what I learned from this for life was how easy it is to walk around being absolutely sure that your watch is right and the church clock is wrong… to be certain that if everyone around me is saying something different, then they’re the ones who have got it wrong…

For some people, though, there’s an opposite lesson – some people, because of the hard knocks they’ve had in life, have such low self-esteem that their immediate assumption would be that they’re wrong and the other people are right. If you’re one of those people, then the lesson I learned is not for you. Because the truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle: we all get some things right and some things wrong.

At that time I was at a stage in my life when I needed to learn humility. This lesson came to my mind a few years later, when God was challenging me to review my thinking on a pretty big issue, and I realised that I had been refusing to accept that others around me may have been right about it whilst I had been wrong.

This hasn’t stopped me from swimming against the tide at times… as those who have been reading my blog know very well… (in fact, there’s one post coming soon…) but I know I’m only human and fallible, and even though I may feel 101% sure about something, I may have missed a point somewhere… I know from experience that there have been plenty of things I have felt 101% sure about but then later changed my mind pretty drastically – so somewhere in the corner of my mind, even as I stand bravely on my soapbox, I know that my watch may be… well… at least a few seconds out…