Category Archives: God-bothering

Do You Have Clergy? Take Our Simple Test…

Do you suspect that you may have clergy in the house?  Here are some fail-safe ways to spot them:

  1. Are there any long black garments on hangers?
  2. Are there bits of paper lying around which when placed in order spell GOD or JESUS?
  3. Is there lots of jam in the house?
  4. At this time of year are there baskets of fruit and vegetables strewn around?
  5. Does anyone in the house go around muttering feverishly jelly, cat food, Mars bars, Bible?
  6. Is anyone suspiciously absent at breakfast on Sundays?

And finally:

7:  are there pouches of cat food which have been mysteriously emptied and filled with jelly and bits of cut-up Mars bar?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to any four of the above then you probably have what experts call ‘clergy’.  Sorry, there’s no cure for this: you’re stuck with it.

All of which is a propos of our weekend in Wales.  Yes, I’ve finally persuaded OH to take his massive brain down to Grosmont for a couple of days in order to veg and to climb some hills.  We didn’t do half the things I wanted to do but we did manage to climb Garway Hill, the highest in the immediate area though nothing of course to the Black Mountains and beyond them, the Brecon Beacons.  Garway features spectacular 360 degree views, sheep, and bundles of bracken destined to be made into biofuel: it is accessed by a drastically steep and bumpy track leading up to a widened spot which is not so much a car park as a place to abandon all hope of your vehicle’s suspension.

Apart from visiting a friend and going to church on the Sunday we didn’t seem to do much else, except that on the Saturday there happened to be a ‘Last Night of the Proms’ concert featuring a local choir and brass band.  This was fun, though it would have been more fun if we had not both been so exhausted.  Still it was a good weekend and a restful time.  Getting away is always good.

Oh, and the cat food?  Shall I tell you?  Oh, all right then… the theme of the service Mary was leading was ‘trust’; it being an all-age service she wanted a concrete example of trusting someone in the face of contradictory evidence.  So at very little expense but with a great deal of painstaking (not to mention sellotape) she cut the bottoms off some pouches of cat food and constructed a good lookalike from jelly and tiny bits of cut-up Mars bar.  This she would then offer to a child with a smile and the words ‘do you trust me?’

Kirk out





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Many Quake, but Few are Quoken…

My absence from the blogosphere for the last week or so can be explained by this: I have been at a Gathering.  Or perhaps it was a Meeting.  Was it a meeting of minds?  Or a gathering of bodies?  Or both?  Where was it?  Who was it?  What was it?  All questions will be answered, though only in the Quaker way.  This is much like the economists’ way: ie if you ask three Quakers a question you will get four different answers.

Quakers.  As Romeo might have cried, wherefore are ye Quakers?  The answer lies in history, in an insult hurled at Friends who, inspired to speak, might quake in body or voice.  In true Friends’ fashion they took the insult and turned it into a name for themselves.  (I don’t know, there are so many words we can’t use any more: queer, Quaker…)

A week is a long time at Quaker Yearly Meeting, also – confusingly – known as Yearly Meeting Gathering.  A Gathering happens but one year in three, and is a residential affair, a sort of cross between a conference and a retreat.  There are meetings for worship and meetings for business (thought it’s often hard to tell the difference) and a bewildering profusion of workshops, lectures and plenary sessions (I’ve never been quite sure what a plenary session is, though OH helpfully informs me that it’s ‘when everyone gets together.’  Thanks…)

So: that took place at Warwick which, apart from being Margaret Thatcher’s favourite university is a pleasant place, open and airy with lots of trees and leading quickly onto farmland and woods (where I walked one morning with a group of Friends.)  By the end of the week it seemed I’d been there half my life; long enough, indeed, to write a poem about my experiences.  I read this out at the final meeting and it was well received: many people asked for a copy, and you can read it below.  There were a couple of interesting lectures from Quaker politicians; one MP and one MEP, on their experiences of bringing Quaker ethics into politics.  I even managed a couple of early-morning meditation sessions.

After that I had only a day’s rest (or half-rest, since I did a poem at the Hiroshima day vigil in Loughborough) before being plunged into an unexpectedly ferocious walk.  At the moment I’m good for seven miles on the flat or up gentle hills; however this walk was seven miles not on the flat or up gentle hills.  The first bit was fine, meandering through a valley, but being Derbyshire there was no getting away from the hills, and up we went.  And up, and up some more and then much more seriously up and finally I could take no more and declared that it was time for lunch.  After lunch we climbed the final bit to the top, and I was assured it was all downhill from then on.  However, what was not specified was exactly what sort of downhill.  And this was not a gentle downhill; nor was it even a steep downhill, it was a quite unfeasible downhill.  A path quite clearly marked on the OS map was simply not there; and following where it ought to have been led us down a vertiginous and unreasonably thistly slope to a thicket of bracken and thorn bushes.  The way seemed hard, if not impossible.  The words ‘going back up’ were pronounced, whereupon I mutinied.  I could not, and would not, go back up.  And that was flat.  It was the only thing that was flat but flat it was.  So we hobbled, skidded and fell down the bumpy slope into the valley and struggled through an inhospitable landscape to find the path which our more sensible friends had found half an hour before.  It was not fun.  The rest of the walk along the river Derwent would have been delightful had I not been so exhausted.

However, the views were tremendous.  And the company was good.

And that’s us up to date.  How have you been?

Kirk out

PS Oh, I nearly forgot – here’s the poem.

Gold Star

(on my first Yearly Meeting)


First I was afraid –

you might say, petrified –

when the plan was laid

that QYM be tried;

I wanted to refuse

curl up like a recluse

but something told me: choose

to be a Yearly Friend


From early intimations

upon a box of oats

of wholesome men with hats on

dispensing Quaker quotes;

vague notions of the logo,

love and peace and cocoa

(though not like John and Yoko)

that’s what I knew of Friends.


As the years increase

I find my spirit’s kin,

witnesses to peace

that never were sworn in

link arms around the fence

sing madness into sense

and speak the present tense

that’s what I learned of Friends.


Midway along this road

I happened on a Meeting;

I sat, I shed my load

amid that silent seating;

but I had no prognosis,

no great apotheosis:

it happened by osmosis

that I became a Friend.


So here at QYM

(or is it YMG?)

I’ve come to sense the stem

of something that is me:

though I wobbled at the gate

and got into a state

something told me: wait

and find your way with Friends


And now I am afraid –

you might say, petrified –

because our time is played

and, Friends, I need a guide

to light me back to earth

where peace has little worth

and where there is a dearth

of people who are Friends.


Let’s lift up that gold star

and set it in the sky

so when we travel far

we hold its halo high

the circle growing vast

we feel the light that’s cast

until we come at last

to meet again as Friends.


© Liz Gray, 2017







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The Church of the Frightened Male

Yesterday I listened to an item on PM (radio 4) about a new church initiative.  It will come as no surprise to learn that most churches are concerned about falling attendance: what did come as a surprise was to be told that attendance is now predominantly female.  This does not accord with my experience; and according to at least one survey I found, more men than women attend traditional churches:

But even if the statistic were true I would question the attitudes of CVM or Christian Vision for Men.  They claim that to many men the church has been ‘feminised’.  Doyleys were mentioned; flowers were cited as reasons why these men do not feel comfortable in the modern church.  Leaving aside the question of doyleys (and haven’t flowers always featured in churches?) the idea of ‘feminisation’ is highly questionable.  We’ve had two millennia of the church being dominated and run by men.  The God of the Bible is male.  Yet barely a quarter of a century after the first women priests, we find that some men cannot cope.

Of course I want everyone to feel comfortable in church – but every place I’ve attended has managed to make that happen without needing to establish a separate space with hog-roasts and other male-bonding exercises.  The CVM website also endorses patriarchal ideas about the man as the head of the family (‘if you get the man, you get the family’ – in other words, women and children do not make their own decisions.)  Maybe there is an argument to be had about whether men need to hang out together and do stuff without women, the same as there is about women doing stuff without men – but come on guys!  If the mere presence of a doyley can put you off going to church, you need to examine your faith.

Here’s the programme anyway – it’s about 20 minutes in:




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Are You a Closet Christian?

It is generally assumed that if you’re a white Northern European, you are Not A Christian.  Anyone who’s educated, enlightened and forward-thinking is automatically presumed to be either atheist, sceptical or at the very least agnostic: with Richard Dawkins preaching on every (virtual) street corner, it’s not a good time to have faith.  And yet according to the Guardian last year 43% of the UK population identify as having a Christian faith

and according to a Gallup faith survey in 2014 30% of the UK’s population identified as ‘religious’.

However we unpick these figures, the trend continues to be downwards; and the assumption is still that if you have a brain you believe in science, and that if you believe in science you cannot possibly be religious.

If you do declare a faith you are likely to encounter one of two approaches: either people may edge away from you and regard you as a freak who is likely to jump on them and start speaking in tongues; or they come at you with a barrage of questions such as ‘what about homophobia in the church?  How can you believe in god when there’s so much suffering?’ or ‘look at all the terrible things done in the name of god!’  In other words, you become an apologist for religion, expected to answer for all the evil committed in the name of God, as well as being expected to have an answer to all the big questions.

As I have previously said I think ‘do you believe in God?’ is the wrong question.  I have developed an answer to this which I have outlined here:

Interestingly I’ve found it much easier since I’ve become a Quaker.  People seem to have different associations with Quakers than they do with Christians in general, so the usual response is one of interest, not fear or hostility.  But it remains difficult in certain circles to ‘come out’ as a Christian.  Tracey Ullman has perfectly captured this in a series of sketches in her latest show (it’s 16 minutes in:)

This in itself is interesting.  I don’t know whether Tracey Ullman has a faith or not, but for a mainstream comic to do such a sketch may indicate that the tide is turning, at least in favour of more tolerance.

Kirk out

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Quaker Blogging?

In some ways I approach this blog the way I approach a Quaker meeting.  A Quaker meeting is silent unless – and until – somebody speaks: and whilst you might think that describes just about any meeting, let me assure you there is a lot of silence.  This is because you are supposed to not only think before you speak, but speak only when you feel led to.  It’s not about saying something that’s on your mind, or coming to meeting with some things you want to get off your chest.  Speaking during meeting is called ministry, and it is supposed to be something you feel irresistibly led to say: as if it will burst out of you otherwise.  This is not a comfortable experience.  I have spoken a few times and it feels very much like somebody prodding you in the ribs until you can’t take it any more.  You are not in control of this process, it can come upon you quite unawares, and it can be nerve-wracking, even quite scary.  So that’s the first thing: speak only when prodded.

You are also supposed to subject your speech to various tests: to ask not only ‘is it true?’ but ‘is it helpful?’  We all know people who make a point of speaking the truth, but whether we find it helpful is another matter.  Kindness is another consideration and there is a fourth but I can’t remember exactly where to find it.

Why did I start on this?  Oh, yes: because I was thinking about blog posts.  I started this blog as a discipline, writing every day whether or not I had something to say – and that was good for me at that time.  But now, nearly nine years later (good god, is it nine?) I post only when I have something to say – and days or even a weeks can go by without that happening.  But do I subject these posts to the other tests?  Do I think about whether it’s kind or truthful or helpful?  Or do I think about whether it’s interesting, attention-grabbing or clever?


While I ponder that, I am getting ready to book my place at yearly meeting.  This is a national gathering of Quakers, and it will be interesting to find out the answer to my question: with thousands in the same room, will that result in more silence – or more talk?

Kirk out


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Lark Rise to Kembleford

Seeing as how I often involuntarily rise with the lark, when dusk approaches I tend to be tired, so I take a trip to Kembleford where Father Brown lives.  Chesterton’s detective-priest might seem utterly dated today but this adaptation, while preserving the setting, modernises some of the attitudes.  As the parish priest of Kembleford, a village where the murder rate is so extraordinarily high it’s a wonder they have any inhabitants left, Father Brown manages to insert himself into every investigation and inevitably finds clues the police overlook in order to crack the case.  A priest makes an unlikely detective but they do have things in common: like detectives they hear confessions and they have a pass to situations where the rest of us can’t go.  They are also present at the end of life.

The plots are highly improbable and most of the characters cardboard cutouts, but what makes this watchable is the character of Father Brown.  The central character is done just right by Mark Williams of The Fast Show (also Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series.)  He reminds me of the recently-deceased Rabbi Lionel Blue:

Though of different faiths they both exhibit the same patient, understanding manner; the same humility, the same essential faith. Father Brown’s belief in the potential of every human being for redemption causes him to stand alongside criminals and victims alike; a great antidote to these days of tabloid recrimination.

The episode where the character’s strength hit me most is The Eagle and the Daw, where Father Brown is wrongly accused of murder.  Instead of ranting about his innocence he sits patiently in his cell and waits for the outcome to unfold, even though these are still the days of capital punishment and the stakes are high.  Then when he is, inevitably, exonerated – and solves the case to boot – everyone gathers round to congratulate him.  But instead of lapping it all up he tells this story:

Once there was a jackdaw who was very vain.  He watched an eagle one day, soaring in the air.  ‘I can do that,’ said the jackdaw.  He watched the eagle swoop down on a baby lamb and carry it off into the sky.  ‘I can do that, easy,’ said the jackdaw, and he flapped his wings and flew high into the air.  He hovered over the flock, then swooped on a baby lamb and stuck his claws into it.  But he didn’t have the eagle’s strength so no matter how much he flapped his wings he couldn’t lift the lamb off the ground.  Then the farmer came along, caught him and put him in a cage for his children.  And there the jackdaw stayed.

There’s no vanity whatsoever in the character of Father Brown: he has no concern for his appearance, nor for social status.  Sometimes I wish I could be like that too – but it’s a bit of a tall order.  Still, inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places…

Here’s the latest episode:

Kirk out

PS  Like the title?  See what I did there?


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The Anti-Narnia

Far too much has been written about the over-commercialisation of Christmas.  People have been banging on about this ever since I can remember, but without success, for the phenomenon has now reached ridiculous lengths.  From the beginning of October I went through my Facebook news feed resolutely deleting everything that had a reference to Christmas and keeping it up until the actual beginning of Advent which this year fell on 30th November.  (Incidentally this reminds me of Nigel, the over-zealous curate in ‘Rev’ – can’t find the clip – who flounces into the office and announces ‘If I have to tell one more person it isn’t Christmas yet, it’s Advent, I shall go completely doo-lally!’)  I can’t remember exactly when the season of Christmas begins but I think it’s on Christmas Eve – and then it lasts, as the song says, twelve days after that.

But nowadays Christmas begins as soon as the summer holidays are over.  Barely is the harvest in; hardly have the children got their feet under a larger set of school desks, than the adverts begin.  You hear with dread the faint jingle of bells that announces the onset of yet another festive season; parents and teachers groan at the knowledge that they must deal with the children’s mounting excitement for another two and a half months before it can be discharged – and then the shopping begins.

Well – it seems to me that, with global warming, what we have here is the anti-Narnia.  The climate has changed so much; winters are now so much warmer than they were and Christmas so much longer, that we seem to be in a country that has fallen under the spell of some wicked wizard; a country where it’s Always Christmas and Never Winter.

I guess one advantage of not having money is that you can just ignore all the ads; the only offer I’ve been remotely tempted by is a subscription to Granta and sadly it’s too late to ask for that now.  Keep it simple is my philosophy: straightforward presents, not too many cards, and an easy Christmas meal without too many extras.  Enough food and wine to enjoy, presents under the tree and a few Xmas crackers – and I am content.

Would it were so easy to sort out global warming.  Then again, maybe it is: maybe if we apply the same criteria – cut out the extras, live more simply, have enough to enjoy and be content – we could find the answer.

Oh, and get me a subscription to Granta…



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