What makes a ‘safe place’?

I’ve been wondering recently what we mean by a ‘safe place’. I’ve heard this applied to places either online, our church and various other communities. These spaces are described as ‘safe’ and I’m wondering what is meant by that. 

This train of thought was sparked when I went to L’abri for a weekend with a friend back in May. For those of you who don’t know what L’abri is, it’s hard to explain. Their website is here. That might help. Briefly, they are an intentional community set up to help people explore the nature of truth and to find their creator God as they question what the heck this life is about. 

There is a monastic quality to life in the community with space set aside for work, study, creativity, prayer, play, tea drinking and discussion of big questions about life the universe and everything. They run on a termly basis with students coming for either whole terms or a few weeks/days. Onsite live a host of workers who help with the day to day running of the place and help to guide the students through their thoughts. It’s an interesting place to hang out. 

I hung out there a fair bit back in my days of working as a student worker for UCCF. Back then it felt like a super ‘safe place’ to explore my huge doubts and questions about this faith thing. I learnt there to enjoy the vast complicated space between the question and the answer and to soak in the wonderful creativity of our Maker. 

I hadn’t been back since the arrival of small people in my world and stepping back into the Manor House,where L’abri England is based, felt like returning home. I breathed in deep of the air of community life.


(Small geek moment: It might sound odd but the place I love most at L’abri is the rota board, the clear rhythm of days laid out, who is doing what obvious for all to see. I love a sense of peaceful order. Anyways. It was good to be back.)

As I walked around through, I noticed some jarring elements. The library was full of books of my past. Books that triggered fears of exclusion, of being judged for my lack of exact theological framework, books that I feared because their counterparts weren’t there. The well argued other side of debates felt missing. I worried that my greater ease with the expansive nature of faith wouldn’t be welcome. 

I started wondering whether friends would find this a safe space and then started questioning what on earth was a safe space anyway. The next 24 hours gave me some ideas.

I chatted with one of the workers, still there from when I last came. As we chatted I had the profound sense that here was someone who wanted to know me beyond where my theological framework (whatever on earth that means) was at that moment. Here was someone who was interested in me as a person. What I believed was fairly secondary to the connection as human beings. I found this again in the lunchtime discussions, with 10 or so people around a table chatting about a big idea. As the hours unfolded I felt again that this was a different kind of safe space. A space between question and answer. A space where firstly it matters that you are a human being rather than a set of ideas. A place where disagreement can happen and there are always more questions and space for questions rather than a shutting down with the ‘correct’ answer. 

L’abri is a place that is searching for Truth so it’s going to lean more towards finding some answers, but, it seemed to me, a safe place to explore and be ok with disagreement because of this constant desire to treat people with dignity and worth. It isn’t a space where everyone agrees all the time and I wonder if this kind of  safe space is more realistic than my desire to have a safe space sprung from things we all have in common. Those kind of safe spaces, the ones born out of the rush of finding people who seem to agree with you on everything, can very easily can disintegrate into an ‘unsafe place’ when you change your mind and think things outside the tribal norms. 

(Should safe place have quote marks around it? I can’t decide…)


Maybe in our tribal world we should seek these kind of wider safe spaces, ones where different ideas aren’t stamped on. Places where we can treat each other as humans, before treating each other based on our set of ideas about a subject. I think it’s a bit like Brene Brown’s vision in Braving the Wilderness (Well worth a read). She argues for listening, for not devaluing people, for not forgetting that all those around us are just that, people to try to understand and love. 

Maybe it’s about not seeing people as ‘other’ but to seek to see each other as image bearers of the divine. To ask questions. To love through the differences. To be safe spaces for each other because we treat each other carefully and with kindness in the differences. 

Here’s hoping you can treat me like that and I can treat you like that. That we can push through the instant buzz of seemingly connecting with people who think exactly the same as us to the deeper work of understanding why we think differently and finding a deeper connection born of love. 

In any chat about what we think and believe let’s edge closely to the patience, kindness, gentleness, compassion, mercy and grace of our Creator in their insanely patient dealing with humans throughout the mess of history. (It comforts me immensely to know no one has ever in the whole of time got this God thing totally figured out) 

Let me know what you reckon. Is any of this achievable? 

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The yearly post remembering why I carry on blogging…


I keep saying internally and externally that I’m a writer, that writing is part of my DNA. Whilst talking to a friend at the weekend we agreed that maybe it was time to do a bit of old fashioned blogging, the kind of riffing off a subject to get it straight in your head or to note it down for a future self or just to have fun expressing yourself. Often we get caught in the trappings of what will people think? Am I writing anything important or significant enough? Those thoughts often crush the creative process in me. I write for the joy of writing and to know I am not alone. That’s why I connect to other people’s writing, this sense and spark of connection, to know I am not alone.

That’s what good music does, that’s what a well articulated thought does, that’s what words telling it slant through poetry do, that’s what communal expressions of human experience do. They reach through the things which divide us and dive deep to find the stuff we have in common, the reassurance that in life we are not alone. With enough voices out here getting to the heart of the stuff which makes us human, we might just be able to reach the deep connection points that raise our souls to wonder and rejoicing in this world.

At this point I wonder if it’s an impossible goal. The stuff that divides us seems much stronger than the commonality of being on this earth with skin and bones. As one of those God botherer types I can see some way through this mess to the wonder of us all being different, and then that difference being a cause of celebration, not something to put us in trenches far away from each other. We bear the divine mark, we are image bearers. We have incredible dignity and worth and there is SO much that we can celebrate in each other before we express our different takes on the world.

Celebrating the divine image in each other might also lead to listening and learning from each other, from not treating each other with shame when we change our views on things, from asking questions and discovering the wonder of the person in front of us. Celebrating the divine image in each other might just lead us in the ways of love.

Er. I have no idea how we got there from the desire to blog again. But anyways.

My conclusion is,

I still want to write.

I want to create and express my thoughts, and then maybe have a chat about them, and then maybe come to a different point of view.

Scrap that, I want to blog because then people might adore me and think I’m a fantastic writer.

Scrap that, I must blog because it helps me process my thoughts.

Whatever the motivation, I want to write, to plough through the fears of what people will think and work this muscle which helps me so much in ordering and processing life. Glad you could be along for the ride…

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What I’ve been reading: Feb-April

I really thought this year would be different and I’d manage to maintain my excellent January rate of reading. Lots of things have got in the way and I find myself once more out of the reading habit. I’m hoping that by writing these notes down I’ll remember that I love reading and just do it some more. Here, as ever, in no particular order are the books I’ve read over the last 3 months.

Michelle Obama- Becoming. 

This is definitely one of those which is going to be high on the best reads of the year. I loved reading about this very driven compassionate woman and her journey through life. As much as I hate to admit it, I did get more interested once she and Barak got into the White House (it’s just so fascinating seeing how people deal with living at that high level of being known and watched all the time). I read it whilst we were in America for a week and felt fairly overwhelmed by the need to live a good life, to make a difference in the place we live in, to care about the systems around us. Being me I haven’t really translated that into much action but it did stir me to want to make more of a mark on this world and get involved in making life better for the people around me. It also made me pretty proud of the projects our church runs seeking to do just that.

Let Me Lie- Claire Mackintosh

Another one of those suspense novels, pretty good for a flight and engaging enough to wonder what’s going on and being marginally surprised at the ending.

Shadow Doctor- Adrian Plass. 

This is one of the most opaque books I’ve ever read by him. It felt like a story about the agonies of ministry, of pastoral work, of the complexities of actually being Jesus to people in their lives. I think I need to read it again to really understand what’s going on it. It felt incomplete and I think that was the point. Anyone fancy reading it with me and chatting about it over a pint?

The Sin of Certainty- Peter Enns

This book felt like a breath of fresh air. His basic premise seems to be that God desires our trust rather than our ‘correct’ beliefs. I loved it. Having joined, and now working for, a church from a very different tribe of Christian faith than I’ve been used to, I’ve become really aware of the shibboleths we all hold, regardless of the tribes we belong to. I’m tired of people talking about the right answers to massive complex issues as if we all have to ascribe to the right set of beliefs before we are ok in God’s eyes. Peter Enns points out that God is much more mysterious than we give God credit for, that we are called to trust rather than working everything out. After all no-one in 2000 and more years has really got this God thing all tied up and sorted. God seems to be ok with that (or the narrow road really is incredibly narrow). I would rather spend the rest of my life living in relationship with God, learning to trust rather than learning all the ‘right’ answers to all the issues surrounding this faith thing. That’s just me though. A book which made me breathe deep and love God all over again. I’m not sure you can argue with that too much…

The Bible Tells Me So- Peter Enns. 

Another one along a similar vein as above (yep he’s one of those writers that really only has one idea and says it in a very eloquent way) and made me want to read the Bible again. Another win.

(It should be noted that these are two books about God written by a man. I’m not sure I’ve read many of those in the last 6 or so years, but he’s pretty good. I realised I love him because he writes like the women authors that I love, like a person who is wrestling with this stuff and who has a personality, not like a dry person who has figured everything out and has no personality.)

Uncommon Type- Tom Hanks

Some short stories by the lovely Tom Hanks, all with some mention of a typewriter (I had to be told that by a review I read). Some were good, some I skipped over. It’s probably on the whole worth a read.

Shameless- Nadia Bolz-Weber

OOoooo I loved this. It’s billed as a radical book on sex but actually doesn’t offer much in the way of a new sexual ethic which I was a bit sad about. BUT what it does offer is honesty about a topic, all too often, not talked about in churches at all. We have to start talking about these things. I had a brilliant chat about it with some lovely women I know, it was unbelievably refreshing to talk about all the things raised in the book. It’s worth reading to start the conversations, to bring reality into any chat about sex, to start to wrestle with what on earth the Bible says about sex, to enjoy her love of the Bible and God, to maybe not even necessarily come to similar conclusions but to at least start the honest chat. And it’s most of all worth it for the grace and love that drip through it.

The Immortalists- Chloe Benjamin 

Best novel I’ve read this year. Four siblings get told their date of death by a medium style lady. The book follows them one by one until their deaths and shows how their stories are shaped by the knowledge they have been given. The characters are really interesting and it was wonderfully written.

Becoming Friends of Time – John Swinton. 

A beautiful book that I want to read again. An exploration of time God’s way, of the slowness of God, of the beauty of the discipleship of people who have no words or memories to express how we usually understand what ‘Christians’ look like. A wonderful book to help us all think through how we express our lives together as the community of God’s people and how we wrap everyone into that regardless of how they express themselves, their circumstances, illnesses or disabilities. It made me realise how much I have been given and also how utterly different being a child of God looks for each one of us. It broadened my awareness of the scope of God’s work and made me want to slow down so I can pay attention to what God is up to and not just plough on with my own agenda.


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Shuffling back to blogging


I’m not sure what it is about life in the hard times that makes me turn once more to writing, maybe the good times just need to be enjoyed whilst the hard ones need to be processed, maybe it’s a cry for help, to be seen and know I’m not alone. Maybe it’s all of those things rolled into one.

Whatever, it’s Friday lunchtime and I’m feeling that need again to reflect on our week, to put thoughts in order and dust down the corners of this blog.

There’s a good prayer from Brian McClaren which is incredibly simple and rests on our front door. It says. Here am I Lord, Here you are Lord. Here we are together. It’s a reminder that whatever we are going through there is Another who we can turn to and who is present in the midst of it all. It also provides a helpful structure to work out what’s going on in our lives, if we are the kind of people who live life in reference to the Maker of us and our world.


Here am I Lord.

After 3 months of pretty good health and some helpful times of refocusing our life, fun in America, me having space to crash for a bit and a month of being able to interact with more people socially, we are back in the lands of husbandface being in a fairly bad state. Sorry you didn’t get to hear much about the good stuff. It was pretty good. Especially taking the small ones to America. Especially getting them to invite people around for Sunday lunches and enjoying deeper friendships developing. It was pretty sweet.  The last three weeks have been less sweet. We have had some good times in the mix- we went to Northern Ireland and although travel etc took it’s toll it was, as well, full of lovely interactions with family and enjoying seeing the boys delight in life over there. Mostly though I have been scared, numb, unable to process the transition back into this world of unknown uncertainties.  Easter weekend brought much sunshine but also much terror as I wrestled with where our world seemed to be going. The good bits were sitting with others in silence on Good Friday, the silence of suffering shared helped me remember we are not alone, that we walk with others in the pain and we are not unique. This life is hard and long for most of us. The bad bits I shall skate over. Numbness ruled.

Here you are Lord?

When things don’t go my way I generally throw my toys out of the pram and act like my wonderful 4 year old son. I scream and shout and glare (boy does he have a good glare..). I rant and rave or I sullenly mooch away, scrolling endlessly through the screens in my life to prevent my brain from thinking anything. I fear silence, I run from any kind of stillness. Weirdly I avoid the thing I most know will help. In a conversation this week I realised I was acting like a person thirsty, knowing they need water and yet not drinking the clear fresh water right in front of their face.

Thankfully we have a God who takes initiative in reminding us of reality, who pours water into the glass and puts it into our hands.

In another conversation I talked again of being back with the disciples in the storm, desperately wondering if Jesus cared. I was asked what I wanted from Jesus in this storm. I broke down in tears as I answered. I just want a hug. I want to know he’s there and has got us.

Here you are Lord.

Here is the One who is present. That moment switched my brain away from being numb and back into being able to live and be present in the world again.

Here we are together. 

It’s together we can journey on. Together with the One who loves me most. Together back in the land of not knowing how long this particular blip will last. Knowing that there are moments where it’s all ok and remembering to go slower, learning to adjust the pace again. Trusting that this isn’t a forever space, just the one we are in now.  Trusting in the One who is my enough, the One who holds my hand as I walk on. Trusting that there will be a one day forever end to this pain. Trusting that living well in this pain is possible and that we stumble on with others who know how to walk with heavy burdens themselves. Trusting in the arms of love that will not let us go. Thankful that my Maker knows how to look after us and wondering at initiative taking love which doesn’t wait for us to come but comes looking for us.

There you go. We are back in a strange land for a bit. It won’t last forever, it may only last another week or so. But. Thankfully. I feel a bit like I’ve been given some Lion’s strength (we are reading Narnia to the boys at the moment, full of small boys asking if they are happy tears as I weep my way through incredible descriptions of Aslan and delight in the similarities between his interactions with the children and us with God) to reform, to refocus and go back to my self care strategies. Writing, exercise, reading, journalling and getting outside are making their way back into my days in a more intentional way. I’m putting on the Oxygen mask and hoping a slow weekend and some gentle weeks ahead may help us flourish in this world.

Your correspondent, just been reminded by a friend to look for the stars in the dark night. Hope is lurking. That’s a good place to be.

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Good Friday.

I’ve always been an Easter person.

I loved the profound uniqueness of this story as I was growing up. It was our festival. The world around didn’t really care. There were no presents to get worked up about. There was just the wonder and the mystery of a man dying for me. A cup. A cross. A curtain torn. The saddest darkest day. An empty tomb. Breakfast on a beach and the voice of the one who loves us most calling our name.

I’ve always been an Easter person. This story has never let me go, from the first time I felt it wrench my soul as a 9 year old on a church youth group weekend away. From the ways as a teenager I would embrace the sorrow and quietness of Good Friday and walk up to Guildford Cathedral, somehow sensing the need to be somewhere where I felt very small and God felt very big.

I’ve always been an Easter person. The pathos, the despair, the dark weeping in the garden, the overwhelming friendship of someone who was willing to take on our darkness, bring total wonderful relationship with my maker and enable the world to know the freedom to be loved, held and given strength in the darkness.

I worried this Easter that I’d missed the wonder. That my soul had grown cold and weary of life. The last three weeks have sent me stumbling in fear, disappointment and confusion as the lovely husbandface has had a dip in health again. Last night I trudged into our Passover meal at church feeling numb and scared. We sang again and again the refrain. “Come all you weary and burdened by life and you will find rest for your souls”. Friends looked at me and asked how I was with meaning. I left walking in the dark with tears, the numbness seeping away as I expressed (a polite word to describe some internal shouting and swearing) my fears to my God.

We woke this morning and I read the boys all their Easter books. It’s Good Friday. I want to remember this story that is etched in my soul, this story that defines who I am and what I believe about this world. I wanted to remember me as I read. I broke down in tears at a God who would take on the shame of the cross, who would die so that life could come spreading like a thaw over a frozen world. I cried at a curtain torn and arms of love spread wide wide open. I wept at the one who knows what silence from God feels like. I wept at one who knows my sorrow, who took on the sickness and sadness of the world to bring wholeness. (The boys stared at my face asking if they were sad or happy tears. Both is the answer.).

I’m an Easter person. This story is the best one. The one that changes everything. Whatever else we make of the fairly random things Christians like to make more important or get worked up about (and always have over the ages and probably always will, we seem to like arguing over the fine print), this story is the one that matters. The one that sticks in the dark nights when you wonder if anything could be alright again. Today we mourn. Tomorrow we taste the silence and on Sunday, oh we long for the final Easter morning when the sun will shine out the clearer and we will see our Hope riding down the mountains in the morning mist to sweep us into arms of love and welcome us into a new world of no more tears and no more pain. (No apologies for the liberal plagiarism from Lord of the Rings..)

In a world of mystery and confusion. In a world of doubt and despair. In a world of pain and no easy answers. This story holds me still.

I’ve always been an Easter person…

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What I’ve read. The January edition.

There are upsides to being ill for the last three or so weeks. I’ve read. Lots.

Here’s the list:

Milkman – Anna Burns

This is well worth the time and energy it will take to read it. It’s dense, fast and slow all at the same time. It’s the story of a young woman in the midst of a community split into tribes, a claustrophobic place where every movement you make is talked about and twisted according to who is speaking. It’s set in a nameless place but as the writer is Northern Irish it’s a fair assumption that she’s writing about Belfast in the troubles. There were many things I recognised from husbandface’s stories of growing up there and the sad continuing realities of communities divided, which carry on in part today.

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing – J.T.Pennington

Ok, so I only read about 2 thirds of this in preparation for a sermon on the Beatitudes but it was a good read. Mostly I enjoyed my brain being awake enough to read and understand it. Flourishing is my word of the year and I loved the perspective given that the Sermon on the Mount is less a series of do’s and don’t’s and more the way to live a flourishing life as part of the Kingdom of God.

84K- Claire North

A good dystopian read. Slightly scary as the dystopian realities in the book come from the horrendous things humans can do to each other rather than a natural disaster. It’s a really disturbing read, but I kind of like to disturbed every now and again.

How to be Famous – Catlin Moran

I love anything this brilliant lady writes. This follows the life of a young music journalist in the 90s dealing with men, working out how to live and what matters in life. Loads of fun to read especially if you love music.

Rewild Yourself – Simon Barnes

A simple list of things that help in getting outside and becoming more aware of the natural world all around us. A fairly swift easy read which is inspiring me to buy decent waterproofs so I can get out more in an enjoyable way. It has also stirred a desire to actually find out more about birds and butterflies. Worth dipping into to get some good practical tips to reawaken love of our beautiful world.

Mystics and Misfits- Christiana Peterson

A part memoir, part reflection on some mystics and their lives. I really enjoyed reading about the authors life trying to make intentional community work and the inspiration she gained from some saints along the way. It also made me want to find out more about people of deep faith from across the centuries.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green.

If you’ve never checked out vlogbrothers on YouTube then you should. Brothers Hank and John Green have been making videos for each other every week for about 10 years now. They have influenced a community of people to decrease world suck and remember to be awesome. They are intelligent, well thought through people who have an incredibly positive outlook and influence on the world. We love them. Hank wrote a book this year and it’s a great read, clearly inspired by his shooting to a certain level of fame. It tells the story of April who is the first to film a video of a statue, copies of which have randomly appeared in every city on earth. She turns into a modern day celebrity and deals with that in various unhelpful and helpful ways. It’s a brilliant reflection on social media, the desire to be famous and the affects that can have on our soul.

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told- Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally

A fairly sweet memoir of their relationship. I found it a bit weird having read a few books on fame recently. The life of famous people is very odd and if I had more energy I’d probably have more interesting reflections on it. Anyway. A fairly fun read and also brilliant to read a story of people who love each other and are in a lifelong committed relationship. Good to have some insights into what that looks like for them and how they maintain that commitment.

Hello World- Hannah Fry.

Husbandface was delighted that I read a book about algorithms and the affect they have on our lives. It’s actually a brilliant read, well written, easy to understand and slightly disturbing to see the amount of faith we place in algorithms. She covers a wide range of places we use them from data, medicine, justice, transport and the arts. Her basic conclusion was that they make great servants but rubbish masters so let’s be careful and wise in how we use them. I loved this quote:

“But for me, true art can’t be created by accident. There are boundaries to the reach of algorithms. Limits to what can be quantified. Among all of the staggeringly impressive, mind-boggling things the data and statistics can tell me, how it feels to be human isn’t one of them.”

Dogs of War – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Another dystopian future book. A world in the near future where Bioforms are used in warfare. These Bioforms are mixes of animals, human and robot. We follow Rex, a dog Bioform as he grows in understanding of who he is, as the Bioforms get more rights within society and his conflict in wanting just to be a ‘good dog’ for his warmongering master whilst realising his master wants him to do bad things. It’s so well written and Rex is a brilliant character that even if you shy away from sci fi it’s still worth a read. Also- for the small demographic of people out there who have read the book and have small children, it totally explains the Paw Patrol.

Very Married – Katherine Willis Pershey

A lovely book reflecting on the value of marriage. It’s a series of essays on different aspects of marriage, personal experience, stories and a sense of the overarching goodness that God is involved in marriage. It’s full of grace, inclusion and an awareness of the privilege the author holds. A fascinating book on many levels it’s probably the first book I’ve read on marriage in a long time and from a fairly different theological tradition from the ones I read years ago. She manages to tread an interesting middle ground between tribes that I found very refreshing. I loved her chapter on grace, of the reality of the pain we can cause each other but that God’s grace and love always hold us through our marriage journeys, she’s realistic about divorce and manages to hold the tension between acknowledging the seriousness of the ways we mess each other up and the constant consistent love of God poured out whatever we have done.  She also has a brilliant chapter on the realism of temptation to infidelity, how she chose to resist temptation through honest chats with her husband and recognising what was going on, She then touched on the call to not judge others but to, in community, facilitate honest challenging chats about these issues with each other.  Well worth a read and really refreshing.

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The details.

It’s the details.
The small ones.
The slow ones.
The gentle walking on ones.

It’s the details.
The text.
That message.
The family taking our boys for breakfast.

It’s the details.
The poem sent
The reminders.
The knowing that others hold us in this.

It’s the details.
The songs swirling.
Second cup of coffee.
Orange juice, pastries, book finished husband hugged.

It’s the details.
Those friends with food
Who keep turning up and
Asking the right questions again and again.

It’s the details
The messages
The love
The hug on the school run.

It’s the details.
Like he sang.
“The sum of all these parts is we”

It’s going to be alright.
It’s all going to be alright.
Somehow. Somewhere.
It’s alright.

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