June 2009

Michael Jackson

Like many others I woke up this morning to the sad news that Michael Jackson had died suddenly, aged 50. I loved so many of his tracks and thought that ‘Thriller’ was one of the best albums of my teenage years.
Often called the ‘King of Pop’ he was a creative genius and took songwriting, dance and video production to new heights. He was a very flawed hero, with many problems, sometimes looking so sad.

Whilst I loved dancing to ‘BillieJean’, my favourite track of his is, ‘The Man in the Mirror’. We all want to change the world but, as his words remind us, our job is to start with ourselves…

I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change

Michael Jackson Read More »

Finding God, Talking up Church, Picnics and Parties

Last week I read the following article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1192056/This-Life-Sarah-Oliver-finding-God.html in one of the Sunday supplements and several things struck me.
Sarah Oliver ‘didn’t mean to find God’ but explains her story in the article and uses phrases like – ‘because I finally found a church to which I wanted to belong’….’mostly I like the people’….’a simple and vigorous Christian kindness’. A hugely positive article it ends with ‘in these economically and morally troubled times religion is finally reprising its traditional role as society’s storm anchor. Amen to that’.
Do read the article and then get together with a few friends and discuss it over a drink. What lessons are there for us to learn? What does it say about people’s attitude to church today?

And while you’re at it, take a look at this YouTube clip and compare your discussions about Sarah Oliver’s article with your thoughts on Chris Moyles Talks up Church – www.youtube.com/watch?v=StEDAjhuiTo . This is a 6 minute clip from Chris Moyles Radio 1 show where he chats about his impressions of seeing the Sunday service, almost by accident, the previous day. We see the service going on as he uses words like ‘amazing’ and ‘awesome’ . It will certainly give you and your friends something to talk about. Again what does it say about our society, people’s perceptions of church and Christians and what can we learn? Let us know your conclusions – we’d love to have your feedback.

Another great summer idea from Macmillan. The Big Picnic – http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Get_Involved/Big_Picnic/The_Big_Picnic.aspx is their latest idea and one all of us could get involved with. What better way to have fun with others in our community while raising money for a good cause. Take a look at the website, where all the resources you;ll need for a great event are easily accessible. We’d love to hear about your picnic.

If you’re looking for a new idea, then you might consider Jamie Oliver’s latest initiative – a new party plan idea – Jamie at Home. Opportunities to start your own small business – great for making contacts or just to host a party. My contact is Karen Tyas on 07828 689984 – she’s based in South Yorkshire but could give details of other agents around the country..

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Are Women Happier?

A recent article in The Times reported that women are less happy than men (May 31st 2009). According to a study published in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States, well being and life satisfaction do not match up with advances in social circumstances and material comforts.

After 40 years of fighting for equality, it seems that women have made some advances: the gender wage gap has partly closed; educational attainment has risen and is now surpassing that of men; women have gained an unprecedented level of control over fertility and technological change, in the form of new domestic appliances, has freed women from domestic drudgery. But when asked to rate their happiness the answers showed men were happier than women and in America women are less happy than they were 40 years ago!
When measures of women’s happiness started to dip, some sociologists reached for a simple solution known as the “second shift”. Women’s opportunities in paid employment had increased, but their domestic load had not correspondingly reduced. The belief was that they were going out to work then doing a “second shift” at home — no wonder they weren’t ecstatic.
Sorry, that won’t wash, say Stevenson and Wolfers. Surveys of how individuals spend their time show that for both men and women total work hours (combining paid or domestic) have declined since 1965. Perhaps it is more in the perception of how life should be that affects the feelings of women?
“Women do stub their toes on the work-life balance much more than men,” she said. “Even if they have solved it (in practical terms), they worry about it.
“So they are probably going to say, ‘Well, I’m not as happy as I could be because I’m carrying this burden of worry’.”
Though nobody has isolated a convincing reason for the decline in women’s happiness, there is a consensus of sorts. As Oswald put it: “The lead theory is that women’s lives have become more complicated in many dimensions, unlike men who have to balance a smaller number of balls.
“It is probably still true that men do fewer things well.”
Pine agreed: “One can always point to increasing pressures on women. We are now trying to have careers and families and look good for longer. It may be that in trying to have it all we are feeling that we may have set ourselves an impossible goal.”

Siobhan Freegard, founder of the website Netmums, discovered her own measure of how women’s happiness has declined. A survey of her site users indicated that levels of the “baby blues” experienced by new mothers have risen sharply since 30 years ago. So she set about asking experts to formulate a programme to help.
“In our research one key problem that emerged was that we all move around a lot now,” said Freegard. “About 60% of women no longer live near their extended family and the same proportion of women haven’t replaced that family support with a new social network. The whole breakdown of community is a factor.
So we set people tasks. Be part of networks. Join groups. Speak to an old lady. Talk to your shopkeeper. Phone someone you haven’t had a good chat with for ages and so on.”
The happiness of participants was tested before and after the programme — and at the end they were on average 16% happier.
Might such ordinary, everyday connections be more important to happiness than impossible dreams to have it all?
“We pushed so hard for equal rights, for having the right to work, for having equal status, we pushed hard to have choice,” she said. “But what we hear back from many mums is: I have no choice, I have to work, I don’t love my career, my childminder is taking half my salary and I’d rather bring up my children myself but I can’t afford to.
“I’m not saying women shouldn’t work. If you enjoy your job and it’s a fulfilling career, that is a positive choice. But if it’s not . . . it’s almost in some ways that we got it all, then found that actually it wasn’t quite what we wanted.”

Activate has been around for forty years and during that time we have always been encouraging our supporters to be connected with their communities and neighbours as well as spending quality time with friends. But we know that it is not in community or work/life balance or shared domestic roles that happiness is found. The only answer is Jesus, a relationship with Him is the key to contentment and lifelong fulfillment. Forty years on, let’s not lose sight of this vital message, women around us need Jesus more than ever!

Are Women Happier? Read More »

All Singers Great & Small

“June is busting out all over…” There are only a few more days left to sing this song as Midsummer’s day has now been and gone. The song reminds me of my late father who once told me with great glee that when the musical ‘Carousel’ first came out he and his mates used to whistle or sing it loudly in the streets, much to the embarrassment of a local girl called June who was blessed (or not) with an ample bosom!

We don’t hear many people singing and whistling in the streets these days but Musicals are still very popular and sing-along events draw great crowds. Mama Mia is a perfect example of that and those of us who have put on an event using the DVD can testify to its success. It’s currently on SKY TV and we think it will be around for years to come – so if you haven’t tried it yet (or even if you have) then you’ll get the chance to sample it at the weekend away in November.

People love to sing and it is so good for you. My friend Nicola and I were chatting about exactly that earlier this year. I was reminiscing about the occasional choir at my last parish and she was saying how much she missed leading the local school choir since she left and became a travelling Piano teacher. I think she calls herself Peripatetic but I can’t spell that!

Anyway one of us casually said “We should start a choir” and we stared at each other as the potential began to dawn. We went away to ponder the possibilities, and practicalities.

Nicola’s husband is the Pastor of Mill Lane Independent Methodist Church in the heart of our community and they had been thinking about how they might serve the local area, for which they pray regularly. When we voiced our idea they offered us the use of their cosy little church building, the cover of their liability insurance and music license, and the use of the kitchen afterwards for refreshments. A door had opened wide and the invitation was clear.

We sent an email to the local newspaper saying we were going to meet to sing for fun and wellbeing. No auditions, everyone welcome. They ran it as a News feature and our phones started ringing. About a dozen people rang to say they wanted to come. Our opening night was March 25th this year and 22 people turned up. Some people we knew by sight, some were from local churches but others had no church connection. The unanimous comment was “I’ve been looking for something like this for years”.

A great bonus was the arrival of my daughter’s friend Kathryn, a professional musician, who offered to conduct the choir and help us learn new songs. She lives 15 miles away but comes because she enjoys it and insists it looks good on her CV. We have to literally force her to accept petrol money. We don’t charge anyone for coming but have a basket for donations and it covers all expenses and enables us to give donations to the little church as a thank you for their open handed hospitality.

A computer teacher within the group designed, printed and laminated some posters for us and 3 months on we have doubled in numbers. The question kept being voiced “What shall we call ourselves?” Several names were suggested and everyone voted – the winner being “All Singers Great and Small”. Very appropriate as the ages range from 11-80 (the majority being women 30-50) and we are an eclectic mix of experience and abilities.

People have brought friends and family along, but friendships have also sprung up within the choir. Everyone helps with drinks and washing up, some even bring cakes. One person announced a Garden party with a raffle for Charity and someone else in the group painted and donated a fabulous framed landscape picture to the cause.

The atmosphere week by week is warm and enthusiastic, with lots of laughter and banter. It’s great to be part of it and the singing is top quality. We’re now planning a concert, just for our nearest and dearest, on August 19th preceded by a ‘Jacob’s Join’ tea. In addition to choir songs, people are offering to introduce items, sing solo, or in duets and small groups. Some of the songs are funny, others heart-stoppingly beautiful, and it promises to be a great evening. A choir member is designing the programme.

On the first night we were so encouraged and choked by the turn-out that we asked if we could just say “thank you” to God at the end. No one seemed in the least phased by this and a brief final prayer and blessing is now an accepted part of the proceedings.

On one occasion I actually read out the Aaronic/ Priestly blessing from the book of Numbers in my big battered Bible and mentioned the John Rutter song “The Lord Bless You & Keep You” which echoes the prayer. We’ve just included it into our repertoire which otherwise consists of a mixture of Songs from the Shows, Pop Classics and Folk Songs.

Recently I was away on retreat with local clergy. The choir members all knew about it and teased me about the improbability of maintaining silence for any length of time. While I was away someone suggested that they should secretly learn the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley. They all think it’s a great hoot and obviously I saw the funny side, but I love the song and just think “Praise God they are singing Psalm 23”.

The choir continues to grow and go from strength to strength. Mill Lane Church have invited us to sing at their Harvest Service and there were lots of assenting nods when we announced it, so we’ll see what happens next. That’s the Boss’s department.

We just offered him our dream and we turn up week by week to see what he does with it. We’ve got our music in alphabetical order in our folders. The first one is “Any dream will do”. It was the first song we attempted and I can’t help thinking that those words are prophetic. Why not trust him with yours?

Jan Harney.

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