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Posts by Beth Routledge

Reflecting on the Cascade Conversations in Glasgow & Galloway

Over the last six months since General Synod, the dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church have been engaging in “Cascade Conversations” . You may remember from what I’ve previously said that this is the process which some senior members of the Church decided we ought to use to discuss same-sex relationships [sic] in the Church.

The conversations in my diocese, which is Glasgow and Galloway, concluded this weekend with an event in Galloway. There had been previous events in Glasgow and in Ayrshire. I have attended all three of them and have engaged with the process as best I was able.

The process has followed on from the conference held in Pitlochry shortly after Easter and the presentation which took place at General Synod in June. This “cascading” process has involved series of conversations, which have begun to be arranged and take place in the various dioceses of the Church. The intent was for the conversations across the Province will have broadly the same format as the conversations that were held in Pitlochry, beginning with reflections from invited speakers and then breaking into small groups for further conversation and reflection. The further intent, so we have been told, was for those conversations to “cascade” further into churches and communities. It was thought that the result would be a whole Church conversation.

I have chosen not to speak publicly about my experience of Cascade until the events in my diocese had ended, because I did not wish to prejudice the process. I am going to write publicly about them now.

I know that some of you who were there and others who have heard reports will know that there was a social media embargo. For the first two events, that embargo was only in place for the time we were meeting, and each participant was given guidelines which stated specifically that we were entitled to speak freely about process including on social media. At the third event, we were specifically asked not to discuss the event on social media. I think that is an unhelpful and dangerous embargo and although I’ve respected the embargo while physically in the conversations, I am deliberately disregarding it now.

You may also know that there was a rule of strict confidentiality, specifically that anything said in the small groups and in the room was to remain entirely confidential to the groups and to the room respectively. I am not going to break that rule of confidentiality at this stage. It has been stated on multiple occasions by the House of Bishops and by the Design Group and it was reiterated at the events themselves by the facilitator that the purpose of these rules was to ensure that the process was a safe space.

I have been openly and unashamedly critical of the process since it was foisted upon (not chosen by, not agreed to) a vocally dubious General Synod in 2013. I have criticised it in social media, I have criticised it to my Bishop and to the Primus, and, with considerable support from those both inside and outside of the Synodical processes, I openly dissented against it at this year’s General Synod. I had my doubts from the conception of the Design Group, which arranged the process beginning with Pitlochry. After hearing a little about it at General Synod 2014, I wept tears of anger for myself and shame for my Church as many of my worst fears seemed to be confirmed.

In the end, I did not engage with this process because I think it is the best or the most appropriate process to handle this bit of Church debate, but because it was the process I had been left with and my option was to engage with it or to not be involved at all. In September, at the first Cascade Conversation in my diocese, I was an invited speaker, and I made the terms on which I had eventually engaged very clear to the participants.

But I do confess that despite all of this I did not go to the first event looking to be offended by it. I had heard good things about the event in Pitlochry, and it was clear to me that some participants had found it extremely valuable – some of them people whom I respect and like a great deal. It is not actually in my interests to torpedo what is presently the only mechanism we in the Church have for discussing a subject that matters a great deal to many of us, and I wondered if perhaps by engaging in it I might at least start to see some of the good things that others so obviously had.

It is disappointing that I come away with a sense of having not seen those good things.

I give credit where due to those particular members of the planning committee in Glasgow and Galloway who, having been present for the horrific situation that unfolded at General Synod when the Cascade Conversations were discussed ,worked hard to make this a more positive experience than that. I acknowledge that they were able to do that only within the Provincial framework that they had been given. I acknowledge that some people did indeed have positive experiences at these Diocesan events and say that they have learned valuable things, and I think that that is good and I have no wish to take that positivity away from them.

However, I think it is important that the voices of those who have had negative experiences are not silenced. My experience of this process is that the provincial Design Group and the House of Bishops do not wish to hear from those of us whose experience of this process is that it has been dreadful.

The pitch at the beginning of each event that I have been to has been that there are no outcomes to the day, that there are no decisions being made, that nobody is to take a position, that nobody is to challenge anyone or ask anyone any probing questions. The whole point of the day is simply to listen. The day takes place on holy ground, we were reminded constantly, a refrain that was also uttered in the General Synod presentation about the Pitlochry meeting, and that, while perhaps done with the best of intentions, came across to me as grossly manipulative.

The pitch has also acknowledged equal marriage legislation, but the process has never been said to be about equal marriage – we are, so far as I know and reflected in all of the conversations I have participated in, still having a conversation about issues around same-sex relationships, which, with no definition, cannot be and has not been a cohesive conversation.

My main trouble all along with a broadly defined listening process is its existence as the only process. If it were happening alongside a Synodical process, or in the context of (defined) equal marriage legislation and the (defined) processes of the Church, or even with a sense of general timeline and an idea of what might happen next, I would probably think that a listening process in which the whole Church can participate was a good idea. But absent those things, what results is a roomful of people who aren’t really certain what they’re meant to be talking about. It leads to people sitting around in their small groups not knowing where to begin, or leads to entirely separate conversations about different things with no common thread and not really getting anyone anywhere at all.

We were told at General Synod that the diocesan Cascade Conversations would be over by the end of November, which was later altered to the end of the year, which has been further extended as we know now that one Diocese is not holding its events until the spring of next year. And once these events actually are over, we will have “further conversations” in Diocesan Synods. And what will happen after that? Bishop Gregor spoke briefly about plans that the Faith and Order Board have for options that might be offered to Synod, but no suggestion as to what form those options might take or what timescale they might take place over.

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting where someone asked about the timeline of the process and when it would end. This was not a Cascade event – this was a different meeting, public and minuted and with no expectations of confidentiality, all of which means I am allowed to say that a member of the provincial Design Group was present and their response was that the process will never end because the Church must always keep talking about lots of issues. I acknowledged the truth to this but said that, as I had been told by the Province and by the Diocese and by the House of Bishops that nothing else could happen until the Cascade process, as it had been pitched to us, had ended, it must end. I have still not been given an answer as to when it will.

The best thing I can say on a personal level about the Cascade Conversations in this Diocese is that on one occasion I found them blandly inoffensive and lacklustre, and I left wondering what it was I had just wasted my Saturday on.

Now, let me return to this idea of strict confidentiality and let’s talk about the principle of safe space.

For when it has been worse, the worse has been created by this wilful misunderstanding of the difference between confidentiality and secrecy.

I was one of a number of people at the Diocesan Synod in Glasgow and Galloway, long before even the Pitlochry event, who tried to educate the original Design Group on what a safe space actually is and why an imposition of confidentiality on a group that is on the wrong side of a power imbalance is dangerous and abusive.

That word, “abusive”.

I do not use it carelessly. I do not take it lightly when I say that a harmful thing has been done wilfully, but in this case a harmful thing was deliberately included in a process after multiple people who have some experience in this matter had tried to talk about what a safe space is and what it is supposed to be, and were ignored.

In the course of the Cascade Conversations that have taken place in this Diocese, a number of offensive and inappropriate and factually inaccurate things have been said, each one of them about LGBT people, and none of the LGBT people there were allowed to talk about them afterwards.

We are not allowed to talk about them to each other, or at Synods, or in public, or online. And when the Province tells me how wonderful this has all been and I tell them that it hasn’t, I am not allowed to say, “and this is why.” I think it is harmful that when offensive things were said to me in my small group, I was not allowed to tell the rest of the room what had been said. I think it is harmful that I was not allowed to challenge those things and that I was expected to receive them with “respectful listening”. I think it is harmful that I am not allowed to report them at Synod or talk about it online. I think that telling me that I am not allowed to speak about any of those things or repeat them to anyone else, ever, is a harmful process and is the very opposite of what a safe space is meant to be.

And don’t forget, I’m not the one who has the most to lose in all of this.

I could lose my church, and that’s not nothing.

But I have friends who could lose their careers, their homes, and their relationships over this, and that’s a lot more.

If a process which was designed by a power structure to talk about a minority group has as one of its core principles that members of the minority group must be silent on the matter of what was said about and to them, that is abuse.

It is my understanding from a member of the provincial Design Group that this Cascade process and how well it has gone has been informally reported to bodies outside of Scotland and outside of the Anglican Communion, and they are so pleased with how well they are being told it has gone that they are considering adopting the process for themselves.

This is not being done in my name.

New Fangled Terminology

Beth: It’s for a patient with a background of Yadda Yadda who has come in with Symptoms, and has a new acute kidney injury. So, I’ve spoken to renal and…

Person To Whom I Am Handing Over: [interrupts] Oh, my God, what happened to their kidney? Did they fall on it?

For the non-medically minded, sometime about five years ago it was decided by the universal powers that be that we couldn’t call acute renal failure “acute renal failure” anymore. The only other time I’ve ever encountered confusion is from the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, who panics and starts asking questions if you don’t point out on the death certificate that “injury” =/= “trauma”.

What Are You Doing In There?

I live with two cats.

They are called Harris and Kilda (all the best cats are named after Scottish islands). They are nearly three years old, and the longest they have spent apart since they were born is about three hours. A trip to the vet was involved. It was very traumatic for all concerned.

Kilda is the brave one, and the more sociable one. If new people come to the flat, she comes out for a sniff and a cuddle and to let them photograph her. She is more talkative. She has been the first one to come out of the box in every new place they have ever been to. In my parents’ house when I first brought them home, in my flat after a five hour journey during which neither of them had been able to pee, and at church for a St Francistide service – and when they were both finally out, she went to say hello to the dogs while her sister ran for cover under the organ pedals.

I'm beautiful and I know it

I’m beautiful and I know it

She is utterly baffled at the idea that you (if you were a cat) might occasionally not want to be jumped on and licked half to death.

Recently, someone told me that they were surprised Harris had ever come out of the box. And the thing is, they weren’t wrong. Harris is an introvert, which mostly manifests in her propensity to take herself off for parts of the day and spent time by herself. And before you accuse me of anthropomorphising the two of them, consider this: not too long ago, when they were both locked in the sitting room with A Magnificent Human for the better part of the day so that electricity workmen could do things that involved having the door to my flat open, Harris sat in the litter tray for an hour with the door shut.

Me, do mischief? This face? No!

Me, do mischief? This face? No!

Kilda spent the same time learning how to hold a crochet hook.

There is photographic evidence of this somewhere.

Harris’s tendency to take herself off includes an ability to get locked into places that you never ever imagined a cat could possibly get into in the first place.

Sometimes, the result of this, combined with the fact that Kilda is the smother-you-all-with-loves sort of sociable and the fact that they’ve never really been separated, is that my evening goes as follows:

[ARRIVE HOME, LADEN WITH WORK CRAP AND GROCERIES]

KILDA: MROW.

ME: Hello. No, let me put this down first. Dinner? Hello. Where is your sister?

KILDA: Mrow. [runs around flat like a maniac]

ME: [serves dinner] I’m sure she’s in here somewhere, she always is.

KILDA: [ignores dinner] MROW. MROW.

ME: [opens up all the doors that a cat might reasonably get stuck behind]

KILDA: [runs through all of the doors, comes back out of them looking crestfallen] MROW.

ME: Well, I’m going to make dinner for me. I’m sure she’ll come out. I’ve looked in all the places she could be locked.

KILDA: [glares accusingly from the kitchen door while I chop]

ME: I’ll have a better look in a minute. I’m going to just get this in the oven.

KILDA: [loses patience and pats me on the face] Mrow. This is a situation of great emergency. Mrow.

ME: Yes, but she can’t have got out, so it’s fine.

KILDA: MROW MY SISTER IS MISSING AND MY WORLD HAS BEEN TURNED UPSIDE DOWN AND IT HAS BEEN FOREVER AND MROW WHY ARE WE NOT LOOKING FOR HER MROW. MROW.

ME: Oh, for God’s sake.

[MY DINNER BURNS AS KILDA AND I EMBARK ON A CAT-HUNT]

[HALF AN HOUR LATER. IT IS NOT A BIG FLAT.]

[I MAY BE PANICKING SLIGHTLY NOW.]

ME: [leaves flat briefly to check stairwell in close, because she can’t have got out but what if she got out?]

KILDA: [in flat] MROOOOOOOWWWWW.

NEIGHBOURS: [call RSPCA as clearly I am doing great evil to a tiger]

ME: [on phone to landlord / parents / long-suffering friends] Oh help I’ve lost a cat.

LANDLORD / PARENTS / LONG-SUFFERING FRIENDS: Which one?

ME: Which one do you think? I’ve looked everywhere that she could possibly be! What if she got out? What if there was a car? I’m panicking really quite a lot oh God.

[OPENS A DOOR THAT NO BEING WITHOUT OPPOSABLE THUMBS COULD POSSIBLY HAVE OPENED]

HARRIS: [blinks] Oh. Hello. Yes. How can I help you? You weren’t looking for me, were you?

For All The Saints

Photo: Stewart Macfarlane

Photo: Stewart Macfarlane

Whoever said church couldn’t be fun?

Everyone Lives

Out on the street tonight there are ghosts and ghouls, hobgoblins and foul fiends, witches with wands containing a core of dragon heartstring and boy wizards with scars shaped like lightning bolts, and Marvel superheroes and Disney princesses. In one of the local supermarkets tonight when I was doing my grocery shopping there was a surgeon wearing green scrubs, a theatre hat, and a white coat with blood on it. “I’m really worried, I don’t know if he’s real or if it’s for Halloween,” someone said to me. I am not even kidding. I gaped a bit and failed to lend voice to the thought that if he were “real” he wouldn’t have been let out of the door dressed in those — trust me, I’m a doctor, and all that.

Halloween isn’t really my thing. The commercial parts of it, the trick-or-treating and the wee beasties and the pumpkins. Eh. I don’t disapprove of it (and there is Haribo on my kitchen bench, should Elsa or Iron Man come a-knocking). I don’t think it’s evil or that it’s glorifying evil, an accusation that has been levelled at it by at least one Christian commentator this week. It simply isn’t my cup of tea, in really much the same way (and for a number of the same reasons) that neither zombie films nor Valentine’s Day are my cup of tea.

But there is an awful lot of nonsense around at this time of year about the un-Christianity of Halloween. Well, pish-posh, I say to that.

I’ve been having a think about what the night before All Hallowstide really is and what it might mean to someone like me. The eve of an ancient festival when we remember all the saints of all the ages and all the souls that we have loved and lost. It is not an unusual thing in Judeo-Christian traditions to keep the eve of a festival as much as the festival itself. On Christmas Eve, remembering Mary and Joseph as they journeyed towards Bethlehem. In the tradition that I keep, the dusting and polishing and vacuuming of Holy Saturday is an observance and a service every bit as important as the rolling away of the stone from the tomb on Easter Day. And I remember the first time I learned about Erev Yom Kippur: that on the eve of the great Jewish festival of repentance, before Jews can ask God for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, they must first ask their fellow humans for forgiveness on the day before.

This weekend we keep the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. A pair of feasts that sit alongside each other and are very different in their own ways: one resplendent with the splendour and razzmatazz of the Kingdom, the other peaceful with the memory of all those who have gone before us to a place where there is no pain and no suffering. And at the same time a two-day season that is all mixed up together, all part of the same thing, remembering that there is no way of separating out the saints of our lives and the souls of our departed.

This weekend, I will think about St Luke, the patron saint of physicians, whose own feast day was celebrated just a couple of weeks ago. As we sing for all the saints on Sunday morning, I’ll waft up some smoke especially for him. As I remember the work that Luke did, I’ll also think about the work that I do and the people whose lives and deaths I was a part of. I’ll remember people who died peacefully and people who died awfully and people who I never met until they had already died, and I’ll think of the people they left behind. There are some who I will remember particularly. I said on All Souls Day last year: I take the time to sit, this weekend, with all of the not-forgetting that I do, every single day, through all the rest of the year.

I will think, as I always do for a while, of George Wilson, who I met in the first church I ever called home. He was a chorister there for 78 years and besides that there was one sunny morning in June 1953 when he was a chorister for Queen Elizabeth at her coronation. I think about George because I am certain that he is there with the saints, dancing and singing and having a blast on the heavenly organ.

I will think this year of Nelson Mandela, a saint for this age and to all the world. He too loved and was beloved, and left behind people who see him no longer. It is right and important that he is remembered with the souls of the departed, just as it is right and important that he is celebrated with the saints of the ages.

I will think of those who have died in the service of their country, and those civilians who have died as a result of war. It never feels like a coincidence that the next thing we’ll be remembering is the Armistice and they who shall grow not old.

I will think of all the people whose names we read out at St Mary’s on All Souls Day and whose names we keep safe on the High Altar through the year, every one the name of someone who is missed.

I will think of the people who I love and who I see no longer. I’ll remember the good times and the bad times and the times at the end, and I might even get cross at them for a little bit about the times that they’ve missed. I’ll tell them that they are loved still. I’ll remember that they aren’t gone, not really. I’ll remember them in the tears and I’ll remember them in the holy glitz, and I’ll send up a waft of smoke for them too.

But before we remember the saints of the ages and the souls of the departed, there is a thought that suggests that the practice of dressing up like Lord Voldemort or Jacob Marley is less about the Haribo on my kitchen bench than it is about being able, on this night, to look death in the face, to laugh at it, and to declare that it shall not win. As the veil between heaven and earth lifts, it is that thought that is at the root of all that is holy and all that is true:

That death is not the end.

That it shall have no dominion.

That the people we remember are those who lived and who died and who will rise again in glory.

And that until that day, all is now well and everyone we love is safe with God.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints:
where sorrow and pain are no more;
neither sighing but life everlasting.
Alleluia.

Secret Dogs

Once upon a time, a young doctor was going about her daily business on the ward when she became aware of a noise of an unusual nature coming from one of the side rooms. In that room was a person of whom it was thought unlikely that they would ever again leave the hospital, or see the friends they had left in the outside world. The doctor carried on with her business, but over the next little while she began to hear whispers of a rumour about these unusual sounds.

Eventually, her curiosity took her to the charge nurse.

“O Great Charge Nurse,” said the doctor doubtfully (for the rumour was ludicrous one). “Is it true there’s a dog in Room C?”

“Sssssssh,” she replied. “It’s a secret dog.” And: “It’s wearing a coat and hat.”

For the ward staff had sneaked in the dog, that it and its human might have one last chance to see each other.

And when some time later the doctor found herself having a conversation about therapy animals, she told this story to her new colleagues.

And her consultant said: “Do you know, Beth, I think that if ever I’d heard a story about a secret dog in a hospital dressed in a hat and coat anyway, I wouldn’t actually be surprised to hear that you were somehow involved.”

Answering A White Space Question

At choir practice this week I was minding my own business (and in a very annual leave sort of headspace) when I was asked about white space questions and the Foundation Programme.

And do you know, I was so flustered by being asked that I couldn’t remember what any of my white space questions had been. It is three years ago this week since I applied for my first proper job as a doctor, and those three years feel like a lifetime and then some. Besides, I thought that my FY1 cohort had been the last to do white space questions and that after that they had gone the way of the Dodo and cassette tapes.

A little digging reveals that for the main intake of FY1s, white space questions have indeed gone and have been replaced by something called the Situational Judgement Test – a national multiple-choice exam of professionalism and common sense about which I can offer no advice whatsoever, having sat the pilot exam in 2012 and still been able to make neither heads nor tails of the thing. However, a little further digging reveals that the white space questions still very much form part of the assessment for those applying to the academic Foundation Programme.

A white space question, for the uninitiated, looks something like this (two real examples from 2011/12):

Two essential attributes of a foundation doctor are to deal effectively with challenge and to demonstrate initiative. Describe a clinical case in which you have been involved and use this example to demonstrate how you possess both of these qualities. How will you apply what you have learned from this experience to your work as a foundation doctor?

An understanding of appropriate professional behaviour is an essential requirement for a foundation doctor. You are a foundation doctor based on a busy medical ward. You are reviewing a patient for discharge when your bleep goes off. You excuse yourself to answer your bleep and return to find the patient reading your list of tasks that you have left on the bed. This includes patient names and diagnoses. What would your initial response be? What factors contribute to the pressure of the situation and how would you prioritise further actions? How may this scenario inform your professional behaviour as a foundation doctor?

As you can see, the questions come in two basic forms: the kind that poses a hypothetical scenario for you to answer some questions about, and the kind that asks you to use actual scenarios from your own experience to illustrate an answer to the question(s) that they have asked. Now, I haven’t seen the 2014/15 questions for the AFP and I wouldn’t offer any specific advice even if I had. But let me offer a few bits of general advice:

  • Answer the question.
  • Answer the whole question. You will see that in the two examples I’ve given, each one is actually asking three questions.
  • Focus. The word limit is (still, I think) 200 words per question. This is practically nothing.
  • A well structured answer is shorter to write, easier to read, and demonstrates organised thinking.
  • If you are asked to describe a clinical case that you have been involved in, there are no points for choosing an interesting case. The prudent thing to do is to choose a case that you can then use to effectively answer the rest of the questions. This might be a comparatively dull case, and that’s OK. (My worst score was on that first question, when I got fixated on an interesting thing that happened on my elective and then couldn’t really apply it to FY1.)
  • Officially, there are no buzzwords. Unofficially, you’ll not go far wrong with Good Medical Practice and particularly the GMC’s Duties of a Doctor.
  • If you are given a hypothetical case which is based on some kind of wrongdoing on your part, do at least three things: apologise, admit your wrongdoing, and tell your senior. And then apologise again. In some cases, you should also speak to your defence union.
  • If you are given a hypothetical case in which a patient could be said to have done something wrong, like reading your jobs list or even like refusing to take their medications, do not under any circumstances berate the patient. (I wish that wasn’t based on things I’ve seen actual people write.)
  • Get at least one proof-reader. By the end, you’ll have stared at the thing for so long that you could be reading the St Crispin’s Day speech for all the mistakes you’ll be able to identify.

On Holy Ground

In some parts of the Christian church, there is a tradition of welcoming a person into their church on the night before their funeral is held. It is a short and meditative and very lovely service, and it is a time for them to be with the people who knew and loved them best before all the clamour and intensity of the next day. And afterwards, they remain in the sanctuary, safe and sleeping in the company of God and all His angels.

At the end of one such service, the person’s granddaughter told us how much the church had meant to her grandparent and how pleased she was that they would be able to spend this time in this place that they had loved. I thought that that sentiment expressed a great deal of what we might hope a church can be.

There are occasions in the life of the Church when we are told to remember that we stand on holy ground.

Last night at Evensong, I sat down in an old and well beloved building. I listened to the old stories of Michael and of Moses. I heard the familiar song of Mary. I let the cadence of the words wash over me. As the sun set on a weekend of which the best that might be said of it is that my grumpiness was not without just cause, I became aware of the angels carrying away my troubles.

I wonder what we mean when we remind ourselves that we stand on holy ground.

I think that very (too) often it is meant as a way to tell us that this is a place of “don’t”: don’t touch that, don’t run, don’t bring that person here, don’t ask awkward questions, don’t let children talk too loud, don’t laugh, don’t argue, don’t make a spectacle of yourself.

Really?

Nick Page writes an evocative passage about a visitor to Jerusalem emerging from the Lower City into the light and noise of the Temple Mount. About the livestock market and the business deals and the purification places and the chanting and singing and the lively discussions about the finer points of law. A place where all life is to be found.

In that is an idea that I recognise more in the church than the idea of “don’t”.

It is a place where all life is to be found.

Yesterday, as a song was sung about a dragon that once was slain, I found myself thinking about the life that is to be found in this church.

It is a place where I have ceilidhed the night away.

And spirited away six glasses and a bottle of fizz to the sacristy.

And dripped ice cream on the tile.

And cooked sausages on the dying embers of holy fires.

It is a place where I’ve thuribled backwards amid a shower of rose petals.

Where I’ve smiled.

And giggled.

And mourned.

To this holy ground we have welcomed a man who was arrested in Canterbury Cathedral and a bishop who was shunned by the Lambeth Conference.

And a rooster.

And a cat who I had to retrieve from beneath the feet of an organist.

Right in the middle of the sanctuary, we have held AGMs.

And debates and votes and elections and a Parliamentary hustings.

I’ve sat cross-legged on the floor at the high altar wearing rainbow-striped socks and no shoes, and getting silver polish all over everything.

I’ve washed feet and spilled Radox on the floor.

And spilled wax on the floor.

Once, I nearly set the sacristy carpet on fire in the middle of a service.

(It’s a wonder they ever let me back.)

We are the home of musicians and knitters and Tai-Chi and Alcoholics Anonymous.

And, originally, of the LGBT Switchboard.

I’ve had arguments there.

And had my feelings hurt and I’m sure hurt the feelings of others in return.

And loved and I know been loved in return.

I’ve been there in ecstasy and in anger and in joy and in grief, and even when I’ve thought that I’m maybe not quite feeling it.

I’ve been there in the darkness before dawn.

And in the darkness after midnight.

And in the light of day.

It has seen births.

And covenants.

And deaths.

And a resurrection.

A church is not polite society. It isn’t Granny’s front room, where you can’t eat anything sticky or talk about politics or get your shoes on the furniture. For me, it is a place that is loved and lived in and worked in, a little bit battered around the corners, and maybe best described by the Maori idea of turangawaewae: an old word that means our places of being and our places of belonging, the places where we feel empowered and the places that we are connected to, a place of home.

It is the place where we meet Jesus – a Jesus who was fully human and who himself experienced all the wonderful terrible mixed-up spectrum that comes with just being a person. It is where he demands nothing of us other than that we be wholly ourselves, with no masks and no pretences and no need to be someone or feel something that we’re not. It is where we bring the best of us and the worst of us and all the ordinary stuff in the middle too.

Perhaps it isn’t really a wonder that I’m allowed back.

So when you stand on holy ground, remember that. It isn’t an exhortation to mind your company manners, or to keep your shoes off the furniture, or to tie yourself in knots being diplomatic. It isn’t a place where you can do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing or be thought not good enough. It is a place where in the safety of God and all His angels and in the company of the one who knows us best, we can find all of life and call it home.

26.2

I got home from work last night and took my knee out for a two mile test run along the river path. The first time I’d had my running shoes on since the Great North Run. It was a gorgeous evening for it and I arrived back at my front door without having crippled myself, which I think is always a good place to start.

And this is what’s next:

brighton registration

I am quite quite mad. Of my madness I have no doubt, but then I never have had any about that.

I registered for the 2015 Brighton Marathon about five months ago and told three people, and decided that I could bottle out of it if the Great North Run did not go according to plan. It was never about getting a specific time or running a perfect race. It was about the fact that if I got to autumn and hadn’t found the time or the motivation to train properly for a half-marathon, it was unrealistic to think that I’d have either of those things for a full marathon. As the start line of that race drew nearer and my miles started to add up, I started to tell a few more people of what I was planning for the spring. And the position I find myself in now is that while the Great North Run did not go according to plan, most of the training for it did and so there will be no bottling out.

It is four years since I ran my first half marathon (when I was a medical student with lies-in and free time and all that jazz). I’m excited to find out what my legs will do when they go beyond thirteen miles.

I have chosen not to run this time for charity. (This is both why I registered so stupidly early and why I wasn’t tempted to try for London.) I’ve been trying to find a less pretentious thing to call this than self-actualisation, but that’s what Maslow would call it. It’s always that, on some level, and that won’t stop me fundraising for the Great North Run next year. But this one is very much for me and for the achievement of a fairly long held was-really-meant-to-be-a-pipe-dream type of dream. It would feel a little weird to try to fundraise for that. I feel that it also gives me a little extra allowance to bore social media with my training woes without feeling so terribly mercenary.

I am also doing it as a bit of a birthday present to myself. I have been told at this point by many people that this is really very mad, more than is normal, but the week between Easter Sunday and Marathon Day will be the occasion of my becoming A Little Bit Old. I am really looking forward to marking my thirtieth birthday with a really long run along Brighton seafront.

In Order To Form A More Perfect Union

The polls in the referendum on Scottish independence open in twelve and a half hours, and I will be at my polling station to vote No.

It has not been a simple decision, and over the last few weeks I have swithered from Definitely No to Undecided to Very Nearly Yes and back to No. I probably owe flowers to the poor pollster from Ipsos-Mori who got paragraph long answers to tick-box questions as I tried to work through my own confusion at her. As a concept, independence is not without its charms. To live in a socialist utopia like the one that I believe an independent Scotland could become? I want that. But what I want more is to be a part of building that utopia for everyone.

I love Scotland. I love her people and her mountains and her towns and her culture. I’ve walked the cobbled streets of Edinburgh and run through the green spaces in Dundee and driven the banks of the Clyde estuary. I’ve stood at the very edge of the Western Isles with nothing between me and North America. I have now worked in every hospital in Scotland west of Stirling, except Oban. And I love Glasgow, too, this beautiful broken city, this dear green place that welcomed me with open arms and that I am now privileged to call home.

“Where are you from?” I am asked.

“Glasgow,” I say promptly. And then there’s a confused silence and then I catch up: “Oh, you mean where did I grow up.”

I dare anyone to tell me that my No vote means that I love this country less than someone who is voting Yes.

I want the utopia. But do I want to abandon Wales and Northern Ireland and the North of England to the right-wing rule of the South East? I don’t want that. Or to share a border with the country that England without the moderating influence of Scotland would almost doubtless become? I don’t want that either. And on a globe that is not shrinking but growing, why in any case would I want to erect any new borders? We vote in this referendum at the end of a summer during which the world has seemed more fragile and yet more bound together than it ever has been. It’s a time to start breaking down barriers, and I’m more interested in world-building than nation-building.

Perhaps we could do wonderful things in an independent Scotland. But perhaps we can also do wonderful things in the United Kingdom as a Scottish nation in which the landscape of political engagement will never again be the same.