The physics of your bra is serious business at good old Marks and Spencer

“Why have their share prices plummeted?” I asked Richard as we walked towards our favorite restaurant, the Indian Ocean. “The only reason I know is I have shares with them. They use to be a staple of British fashion. The customer was always right and they got what they wanted – quality. ”

“Yep, I love good old Marks and Spencer.” I said. “I just bought this coat from them. It’s so warm and comfortable and if I spill anything, it wipes right off. Their bra department is the only place in the world, that I know of, where I can have a serious discussion about the physics of a bra.”

I thought about my bra buying experience there that week. In just 30 minutes of your precious time, their experts will find the bra to make you feel confident and comfortable all day long. My first fitter and I did not have great chemistry. She was a bit bossy and domineering. Abruptly swishing the curtain back and forth on me like an air hostess without warning me she was coming. Not good etiquette when I’m naked from the waist up. I felt exposed and vulnerable. She might have noticed my frustration. I finally blurted out “I’m not finding this (meaning you) very helpful.” That put her in her place. I won’t be intimidated in the fitting room. I really needed some good, affordable and feminine bras and they know what they’re talking about. My inner child wanted to cry and stamp my feet. That’s not beneath me, of late. This childlike strategy is entertaining to watch until I have to apologize for the outburst later.

I decided to wait and come back another day. I was informed by the friendlier shoe department assistant, we’d had a nice long chat before this happened that those women were not the regular bra fitters. They aren’t as good as the regulars, she told me. She suggested I come back later and she laughed when I told her what had happened. I came back a few days later and found THE most pleasant, friendly, and professional assistant. I got what I needed and more. I also had a conversation on world affairs. My 2nd bra fitter was a banker before this job so she really knew the global markets and the root cause of today’s world affairs. She also told me that 90% of women are not wearing the right bra size. Following breast surgery you may have sensitive scar tissue, some swelling and feel quite tender, so it’s important for a bra to fit well and not to rub. Good old Marks and Spencer. Teaching health education, fashion and physics all in the same department.

 

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Church Works North Down is cultivating courage, leadership and a super support network

“How did a respected GP and Christian get involved with the Progressive Unionist Party in Northern Ireland?” That was the first question posed to our Speaker Dr John Kyle at the Church Works In The Community, AGM and Conference, on Saturday October 21, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church, Bangor. The Church we gathered in is a superb example of a traditional Presbyterian meeting house. It’s situated in a lovely seaside resort on the southern side of Belfast Lough and within the Belfast Metropolitan Area in Northern Ireland. Congregants have been worshiping here since 1623 when at the invitation of Lord Clandeboye, Robert Blair came from Scotland to be the first minister.

Thanks to Trevor Magee, YMCA North Down Chairperson, I learned how the charity, Church Works North Down, https://www.churchworksnorthdown.com/ is facilitating Church engagement and developing a super connected supportive network. The charity is also a really great model for capturing the rhythm of church life in North Down via shared stories, humanitarian initiatives (Storehouse North Down, Storehouse Lunch Club, conferences, and a social inclusion group working primarily in the areas of learning disability and mental health).

My good friend John shared his fascinating personal testimony. I summarized 5 of the most meaningful key takeaways from both the meeting, and John’s testimony;

1. Justice is mentioned 200 times in the Old Testament. Jesus had a deep concern for the poor in the New Testament. (Luke 4:18-19).

2. Poverty and justice are inextricably linked and at the mainstream of God’s priorities. Jesus cared for and defended the immigrant, the fatherless, the poor, the ostracized, the vulnerable, and the widow. He challenged racism and befriended tax collectors.

3. Working class communities in Belfast and North Down can teach us a lot about poverty, deprivation and why we need to speak truth to power. (Job 29:14-16).

4. Poverty can be a trap. We can work together to change the atmosphere and create opportunities for kids growing up in the poverty trap. It’s not their fault. An attitude of grace is much more effective than harsh judgement and guilt. (Ephesians 2:8-10).

5. Protestants and Catholics probably get along better in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the world but sectarianism still exists and needs to be addressed. The politicians of Northern Ireland have failed to eradicate para militarism. There is a lack of political will and resources to complete the task. We need a strategy, and exit process for those who truly want to leave paramilitary organizations. (Proverbs 28:5).

Steering well clear of grief

“It is very difficult, and especially in terms of grieving, as most people will steer well clear of grief,” said Karen.
“Yes … I see that. It’s like being exiled.”
“It’s the most effective way to get complete solitude,” she added. “Loose a loved one.”

That last comment was somewhat comical and true. People are cowards when it comes to grief. They miss the opportunity to get close to you when you are least guarded, most vulnerable and human. They deny themselves an opportunity to get close to the light.

We had both just lost our mother’s. Me first. I was wrestling more with the fact that my mum had been travelling globally for the past decade, and I rarely saw her.  I was also in shock about the Irish weather. Going from consistent Califonia sunshine to a thick blanket of cloud for the past ten days was too much to bear. “It’s slit your wrists weather,” I told Karen.
“This is not the regular weather.” she said. “Don’t give up so soon, ma dear.”

I’m not sure I can do it, I thought privately. On top of the normal sadness that goes with grief, there’s the weather. I’m angry about people avoiding suffering and grief. I’m not ready to forgive that. I’m tired of the suggestions too, even from well meaning friends. But mostly from Churchy folks. When I’m ready for grief counselling, I’ll enroll and until then if I need suggestions or advice, I’ll ask. Your the 25th person to suggest a grief recovery workshop, in one week. The “helpful” types try to facilitate their discomfort with “my” grief by suggesting an immediate routine of tasks or structure. “Are you going to get into a routine soon?” It’s two weeks after loosing my mum. “No I’m not so shut to hell up.” I didn’t actually say that out loud but I should have.

I know what I need. To be heard. To have loving compassionate presence. Your presence is more valuable than your performance. I’m open to counseling, maybe. I’m not denying the pain and anger of loss and grief. When I shared what I was feeling a friend said your words remind me of Khalil Gibran,”Love knows not it’s own depth until the hour of separation.”

Pain tells us we’re alive inside. If we listen to what it is telling us we learn a lot about ourselves. And, the anger which is just energy can and will be used to effect great change in the world. So get behind me all of those who wanted to help me facilitate a more deadening or tidy process. And get behind me all those who were cowards when I needed you. I see and feel the individual and collective avoidance of grief. I see the cowardice.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “it’s more civilized to travel 3 miles per hour than 3,000 miles per hour.” Here in Ulster, one of the four provinces of Ireland, I come into agreement with him. Within two weeks, I’ve shifted culturally from a vast bling, success and power driven community where driving was the norm to a much smaller, close-knit and historic province. People here will notice if you’ve parted your hair on a different side of your head, today.

And to what shall I compare it ?

At first it felt claustrophobic, invasive yet incredibly friendly. I’d grown accustomed to an environment of anonymity, wide open spaces and a routine of privacy in the United States. Today I live on a small cute Victorian terraced north Belfast street. Belfast red brick fades, and captures light, beautifully, by the way.

Because my community is much smaller, it’s been invigorating to hit the pavements, i.e. walk and gawk. Walking makes me feel more rooted and connected. Yesterday I walked a few minutes to Church. Today I walked into the city center. This morning I walked to the supermarket and just carried my groceries home. It was a good workout, instead of driving. I’m also grateful for all the good pavements that make walking easy and enjoyable. Some of you may laugh, or find this insignificant, but I’ve lived in places, in the US, where there was literally no pavements to walk upon. The transport system here is good too. Jumping on and off buses, and trains, is easy, enjoyable, and the staff are friendly. It’s wonderful to spend less time in my car.

Going small and slowing down is more civilized. I observe more. I acknowledge and chat to people around me. I notice other people’s dogs. I hear people chatting and laughing in shops, libraries and common places and spaces. I witness and reflect on the rich history and culture around me. Small and slow is good when it promotes feelings of connectivity across communities.

In the parable of the mustard seed, in the gospel of Luke, we’re told the kingdom of God can be likened to a mustard seed. It was small but grew into a big bush where the birds of the air made nests in its branches. A seemingly insignificant mustard seed goes against the images of power and success we see in the world today. Yet it was significant. Power and success is measured differently, in the world, compared to the kingdom of God, both then and now.

And so it goes … significant things are seen and gained as little me goes walking and gawking in the province of Ulster.

 

And on the seventh day, God created the Irish accent

I’m a place person. Maybe you are too. I’m also an Island person with Irish traits. I’m a Celt but not in the same way as a Scottish or Welsh Celt. There is no place more special to me than my own home, Northern Ireland. I was asked to do a BBC radio interview called, “This Place,” many years ago, before I recognized I was a serious place person. The place was Stormont Castle and the surrounding grounds in east Belfast.

Some folks might wonder why I spent so much time out of Northern Ireland if it’s such a special place to me. That’s a good question. I’ve spent almost twenty years in North America beginning in 1986, and I’ve been a US/UK dual citizen for 18 years. In short, a civil war was occurring in Northern Ireland in my early twenties when I left, and North America had a lot more positive energy for a young adult with her whole life ahead of her.  Also, who knows, if I’d stayed in Northern Ireland, I might not have survived the violence.

When we switch our deepest place of belonging, intentionally or unintentionally, for another less familiar or comforting place, many things can get lost in translation. Our sense of place, home and identity is shaken. There’s also an emotional ripping apart for a migrant person that is not experienced when we are in cosmopolitan International traveler mode. The two are distinct. Living in another country long term, and being stretched in the area of home, belonging, place and identity utilizes much more resources and requires much more risk and creativity.

I’ve regained a part of my identity and sense of belonging in the past seven days in Ireland. How ? In seven whole days, I’ve not had to answer these recurring
questions ;

Are you Irish ? Is that an Irish accent?

In the States I might be asked this question seven times a day, every day. Multiply that by 20 years and you may get my drift of how that might make a person feel like screaming. In my head when people would ask me this question, I’d say to myself, ”for goodness sake, do they think I’m not aware of how I talk? Do I really need to be reminded that I’m from Ireland or that I have an Irish accent?”

Over the years I came to accept that it was a genuine way for Americans to connect with me. It wasn’t a particularly good way for me and I still don’t like it but I learned to accept that part of them. I think it challenged my insecurities around my own sense of belonging and identity, and it actually made me feel as though I didn’t belong in the American place. But the most interesting and redeeming part of this story is that God has used Americans and that question to actually point me back to the place where I do feel a deeper sense of belonging.

Thank you for indirectly and inquisitively helping me to regain my sense of place. And with that said I’m not giving up US citizenship anytime soon !!

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t get any better than this. Counting it pure joy in Portrush, Northern Ireland.

Yesterday I explored my favorite place in Northern Ireland. An area of outstanding natural beauty, on the Causeway Coastal route, and a childhood holiday spot. It’s impossible to walk the east or west strand of this glorious beach without making new friends. Almost everyone makes eye contact, says hello, and welcomes Irish banter (conversation).

A filming location for Game of Thrones, it’s also the golf capital of the world. As far back as 1890, in the sandhills behind the beach, the first fairways of what was to become one of our finest golf courses were being created. And long before that, in the 12th century, a contest of a more bloodthirsty nature took place. In the sandhills still known as War Hollow, a battle between invading Norsemen and Irish warriors is alleged to have taken place…and apparently the Irish won.

A local discovery point sign gives us a sense of how far other cities are from the East strand in Portrush.

Moscow 1,708 miles
Berlin 839 miles
Madrid 1,028 miles
Giants Causeway 6 miles (designated as a world heritage site)
Islay 30 miles
Iceland 690 miles
New York 3, 140 miles

 

 

 

How to be a Celtic explorer of the world

In a world where you can be anything be YOURSELF.

Be INSPIRED by others, don’t copy them.

Always be looking and listening. Notice the ground beneath your feet.

Consider everything alive and animate. Allow a soft wind to freshen your spirit.

EVERYTHING is interesting. Look Closer.

Alter your course OFTEN. Walking archaically on a pavement is good. Watch how the British do it.

Observe for long durations (and short ones).

Notice the stories going on around you.

Tune your ears for divine direction too.

Notice patterns.  Make connections.

DOCUMENT your findings (field notes) in a variety of ways.

Incorporate indeterminacy.

Observe MOVEMENT.  A gentle breeze.  Smiling stars above you.

Create a personal DIALOGUE with your God. God still speaks to humankind if you attract him.

Use ALL of your senses.