Friday, 29 May 2015

In Praise of Brunch

Anyone remember the mid-noughties, when Facebook first introduced "Pages"?

It was a time when our Newsfeeds were filled with vital information about what our contacts liked: "Bob likes 'Sunshine', 'Music' and 'Breathing Oxygen."

Essentially, they taught us nothing new. If what you really liked was "Injustice", "Massacre" and "Nickelback" it was unlikely you'd be letting your Facebook buddies know (although the above is quite a likely combination). 

This blog post is kind of like that. An unsurprising newsflash : Brunch is Awesome.

Of course it is. But the purpose of the internet is at least in part to remind ourselves just how awesome the things we think are awesome are.

So... behold, brunch:

1) Brunch is always a treat! This year I have eaten brunch pretty much every weekend. Sometimes twice in a weekend. And each time it is beautiful. 

2) Brunch is the weekend:  It comes post lie- in. Breakfast just sums up the week- you're in a rush, you need to be efficient, you need to face the day. Breakfast is all about the dry Weetabix because you forgot you ran out of milk and nowhere is open prior to 7am.  But brunch says, "hello weekend!"; it says, "take a chill pill"; it says, "catch up on the hipster trends".

3) Brunch keeps you updated on the latest hipster trends. Anywhere brunch-serving that is worth its salt will have hipster baristas. Or brunchistas, if you will.  As they serve you, you can a) admire their impressive beards and b) find out, ahead of the crowd, what the latest trends are. Incidentally, the other day I saw a hipster in the street carrying bananas. Pretty sure bananas are the new thick framed glasses. #hearditherefirst

4) Brunch is pro-calorie saving: if you are dieting, you get to cover two meals in one sitting. And it's going to be something substantial and awesome.

5) Brunch is pro-calories: if you are not dieting, then you can have brunch between breakfast and lunch. That is three meals before 2 pm, people!

6) Brunch is cool: Places that serve the King of Meals are also incredibly street. I mean, they rule because they serve brunch. But additionally, there's going to be a chandelier made of forks, half a bike on the wall, you're going to be drinking coffee out of traffic cones, or the hipster waiter is going to write your order on to one of the bananas he's casually holding: whatever the twist may be, your brunch is going to make you 100 times cooler. 

7) Brunch shows people you care: if you are someone's Brunch Buddy- you know your value. They have given you the breakfast AND lunch slot. They are not in a rush. Their next calendar event is DINNER- and so you really have time to sit back, relax, and give them the full account of how you are doing. I'm not encouraging you take advantage of this, but you should feel adequately honoured.   

8) Brunch takes off the pressure: you can eat creatively. With dinner, there's pressure. You know that food envy is going to arrive the minute your meal does. Sure, you felt impressive ordering your duck-embryo paté and quinoa cakes, but now you actually have to eat it while your friend is tucking in to steak and fries.  But with brunch- it's chilled. You can go original without fear: there's not going to be anything too weird- just a solid serving of goodness.

9) Brunch is reliable: On the other hand, you can always go traditional: you always have the option of a fry up. And it is going to be awesome, even if you have to figure out how to eat it using a chandelier.

10) Coffee: if you're doing brunch properly, you will have at least two coffees. If you go for coffee, you rarely have more than one- I mean, apart from anything else, more would be a breach of the 'would you like to go for a coffee?' contract. But with brunch, you will have at least two. This means extended time for catch up. It also means more coffee.

11) Bacon.

12) Brunch is emotional: it's a combination of so many fine things: two meals rolled in to one, coffee, time with friends. I frequently weep over brunch: and not just because of the bacon. Brunch doesn't just open up mouths: it opens up hearts and lives, people. HEARTS. AND. LIVES.  

So, there you have it: "Philippa likes Brunch."

I also like 'Sunshine', 'Music' and 'Breathing Oxygen'- but that's for another post.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Running Perspectives

This Christmas, in a rare moment of optimistic abandon, I declared: "Just you wait, in 2015, I will be a fitness freak!", to which my brother lovingly replied, "well, you're half way there."

So in an attempt to get fully "there", when January rolled around I dragged myself in to a gym.

I had been very depressed for the majority of the previous year, but having transferred to a new variety of pills I was determined to give myself another prescription: exercise. People say it's good for you.

The lime-green clad instructor in January's Gym was genuinely befuddled to be speaking to a 30 year old who had never been in to (or really even near to) a gym- and yet was still by some inconceivable miracle apparently alive. He even checked my pulse. Sure, he said it was procedure, but I really think he had his doubts; he would have prodded me with a stick if he'd had one to hand...   But once I had completed my induction (the humiliation of explaining that yes he did need to explain the basics of the treadmill but no he didn't need to nervously watch my mile long walk on it because no I wasn't expecting a heart attack any time soon despite what the blood pressure monitor may have said), I began a fairly successful exercise routine.

Five months later, I completed my first 10k race. Hurray!

Granted, I was beaten by a woman who looked about a hundred, pretty much all of the men and what appeared to be a Quidditch team (they were running astride home-made brooms and carrying a hoola hoop on a stick). But on crossing the line I nonetheless felt a huge sense of gratitude for the achievement.

And I think I felt it not because of how far or fast I ran, but because of the distance covered to get running in the first place.

God's kindness was at work in overcoming a range of obstacles long before I met the man in green:

- laziness/ perfectionism/ cynicism and a host of other character flaws
- natural lows in energy
- the idea that exercise is for the slim/ beautiful
- the prospect of an interview with someone who might assume if you haven't "gymed" before you must be as good as dead
- trips to the doctor to get on the right medication to make anything other than being in bed seem like a worthwhile option
- persistent and harsh self condemnation
- low self image (not aided by a) Lycra or b) those people who are so happy in Lycra they seem to go to the gym mainly to admire their Lycrafied reflections. Apparently calories burn better watched.)

So I am grateful to have crossed the line. And I am sure there are many who crossed the line way (waaaaay) ahead of me who also beat a vast range of unseen obstacles. And there will be people at the gym, maybe running more slowly than me, who will have overcome- be overcoming- far more than I ever will to get there. And it is God who gives them grace to do so.

Am I then a fitness freak? No.  My main thought when I am running tends to be: 'why am I running?' (which is why it was nice to have the race interruption of, 'is there really a hoola hoop in Quidditch?'). 

But I am grateful to have experienced the truth of 1 Timothy 4:8- there is value in physical training; a value that comes from our Father.

The value doesn't have to come from running the fastest or furthest: the value comes in a way that the calorie machines don't count- it comes in the times and ways God's hand of grace got me out of bed, down to the doctors, over the condemning lies, the anxieties, myself... and on to the treadmill. Even if it was just for one nervous mile.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

How To Be Okay With Being Okay

If you ask the internet for help on blogging, it will suggest such topics as:

- How To Train for a Triathlon
- How To Make the Most of Your Grade 8 Violin 
- How To Capitalise on Your Cooking Masterclasses 
- How To Learn A Language Rapidly
- How To Inspire the Masses
- How To Be an Origami Blackbelt

Now, I live in a university town filled with people who could do any number of the above things, and probably all at once, whilst polishing off a Masters on Particle Physics. I have friends who are incredible  pianists, vocalists, bakers, triathletes, seamstresses and flower arrangers- and in their spare time. I can't quite figure out what I was doing when people were learning to do stuff- probably memorising MC Hammer Lyrics or thinking up funny taglines for my MSN account. And although "U Can't Touch This" has some flashes of lyrical genius, I often find myself feeling ... bottom set.

This feeling has not been helped by the fact that as a young Christian, when I wasn't committing the centre pages of Smash Hits to memory,  I was reading thousands of autobiographies about people who got on boats, squared up to gangs, gave up everything, started revival, and changed the nations. And I wanted in.

Right from age 16, flicking through pages in the attic, piling high the stories of Incredible Faith and Transformed Lives, I was desperate to make a difference. And when it didn't happen immediately, I thought- it will happen at Uni. But when Uni was a long battle with depression I thought- it will happen on the mission field. But when France was a bewildering encounter with frustration and futlity and, well... French, I thought- maybe it will happen in the work place. But the work place has been difficult- hard to navigate and slow and largely lacking in convertable gang lords- and so honestly, "making a difference", as I envisioned it, still hasn't happened.

Often then, in roll the clouds: clouds of insignificance and emptiness and inadequacy. I can let go of my lack of sports-skills and piano-inadequacy- I mean, I didn't practice, and I quite like not having to play at weddings, and if I'd stayed sporty there'd be no blog post for tomorrow! But that lurking spiritual insignificance- that feeling of living a mediocre, "okay" life... that fog is harder to dispel.

So, here's some brief advice addressed to myself, and others like me: How To Be Okay With Being Okay. 

1) You are not okay.
Firstly, it's insufficient to categorise ourselves as being "okay." It's not a term the Bible uses to address humans, ever. The reality is, on our own- we are sinners. We are dead. We are in the dark. We are "children of wrath." At no point are we given the luxury of being told, "chin up- you're okay." At no point can we say, "I'm alright." We're not okay. Not even the singing, dancing, ganglord converting heroes of the autobiographies justify themselves by their singing, dancing or ganglord converting. The death of Jesus on the cross is what it takes to justify humans. On our own, we are categorically Not Okay.

2) Jesus is not "okay".
We are made adequate in Christ's adequacy. And gloriously, his adequacy is not just "okay." At the cross, He gives us his righteousness. He becomes our strength. He becomes our righteousness, our wisdom and our justification. (1 Corinthians 1:30) We are united to the Lord of glory! And so our identity is thoroughly and absolutely in Him. Which is why Paul can command, "let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:31) Some will have to turn away from fullness to boast in Him. They will be tempted to find their identity and justification in talents and effectiveness and spiritual impact and reputation- and the challenge of the Bible is: let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. And some will have to boast in Him when there is nothing else to boast in. They will be tempted to despair of their lack of talents and effectiveness and spiritual impact or reputation- and to them the challenge of the Bible is: boast in the Lord.

3) Stop Chasing, Okay?
We all, I imagine, have this deep drive to be significant. I feel it deeply and often fear it will completely consume me. But what ultimate significance can we attain apart from being united with Christ? If Christ has lavished his love on us (1 John 3:1), if Christ's banner over us is His love (Song of Songs 2:4) , if Christ has demonstrated His love for us in dying for us while we were still desperate sinners (Romans 5:8)... what greater significance is there? What achievement could ADD to the significance of one loved by the Creator of the Universe? What record of spiritual greatness do I want attributed to my account other than that of Jesus? Jesus offers us Himself: if we have Him, we have every reason to boast. And if we have him, nothing else is worth boasting in. 

So I can't write any of the internet's suggested "How To" blog posts . I know I can't look to my own life and build a case for its significance. But right now, Christ has made me significant by loving me. And He is the Ultimate Significance- and that is more than okay.

Monday, 4 May 2015

A Certain Brightness

So once I'd decided that the internet did not have adequate words and therefore required my blog, I had to grapple with the big old task of naming it.

Here were some potentials:
- Quillippa (Tagline: Philippa, with a quill.)
- Phil-up-a-Blogspot (Tagline: Philippa, with a pun)
- Pun-nough already! (Tagline: Philippa, give up now- the internet has enough words)

In the end I went with "A Certain Brightness"

Advantages so far:
- no terrible pun
-it expresses something

But what?

Hopefully it expresses something of what this blog will:

- that life is hard and darkness is somewhat inevitable.
- that there is hope in the darkness and that this brightness comes in many forms including, hopefully, humour (not pun-based, rest assured!)
- that this broken world is not forever- there is a certain brightness to come.
-  that our hope is, fundamentally, a person: Jesus. And he is a sure, steadfast, robust, darkness-conquering Brightness. He is the Sunrise (Luke 1:78) the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16) and the Light of the World (John 8:1). And He is the ultimate source of all our other brightnesses.
- that because our hope is Jesus, our hope is certain. It is in turning to Him that our faces are brightened.

Hopefully this blog will embrace the reality of both life's hardnesses, and its brightnesses. And I hope it will also point to Jesus, our true and ultimate and certain Brightness.

We'll see how it goes...

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