Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How I became a Brit with a German passport, and why I no longer am

The first time I came to Britain I was 15. I came on a three week student exchange to Ramsgate in 1981. What I took back with me was the memory of rows of identical Victorian terraced house with differently coloured doors, Royal Wedding paraphernalia, a visit to London, cheese-and-onion crisps and, oh, cream teas!

The next time I came was following my A levels. I came for a year to work for a charity with learning disabled adults. I was quickly struck by the diversity in Britain which seemed to be in such a contrast to my native Germany back then. Growing up in fairly rural Germany the only non-Germans I had ever encountered were Turkish “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers), and even then they had been people I rarely actually came in contact with. They seemed to live in different places, move in different circles and go to different schools.
By comparison the Britain I encountered was vibrant and diverse, with people from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds living and working and studying together, with cultures blending and merging along the way.
In short, I fell in love with the country. Incidentally, I also fell in love with an Englishman. Eventually we were to get married, have two children and make our life in England – but first I returned to Germany to train as an occupational therapist.

I came back to Britain newly qualified in 1990, this time to stay. I applied for three jobs and had three job offers. I started working in the NHS which I have done in a variety of settings and specialities ever since.
I eagerly embraced the British way of life. I never particularly held on to my German background, upheld German traditions at home or sought contact with fellow expats from Germany. For a long time I tried to lose my accent until I finally accepted that I probably never would and that it was OK to speak English with a foreign accent. I taught my children my mother tongue, but only fairly half-heartedly. Although they now have a basic understanding of German and have visited Germany fairly regularly over the years to stay in touch with family there, they both see themselves as British more than German.

I love Britain! I love the country with its varied countrysides and cities. I love the people, the English language and the British sense of humour. I have mastered the English language and no longer need to look for volunteers to explain countless puns and innuendos to me. I have a fair grasp on the humour thing although I may never fully get sarcasm…
In all those 26 years I never bothered applying for British citizenship. Firstly I wasn’t required to and secondly I never felt it necessary. As far as I was concerned I was already British. A Brit with a German passport!

Recently things seem to be shifting. In the run-up to and during the EU Referendum campaign we started to hear from a very different Britain.
Ask any German of my generation and they will probably confirm that we had it drummed into us to be vigilant against any individuals, groups or systems which try to single out minorities and outsiders to blame and scapegoat for wider problems in society, and which seek to divide society into “us” and “them”.
And here we are in Britain in 2016 where the Brexit campaign has openly blamed migrants for anything from the housing crisis to unemployment and pressures on the NHS. Where groups and individuals have been emboldened to spread xenophobia and racism. Where hate crimes are on the rise. Where even in government it has become acceptable to consider forcing companies to disclose their foreign staff, and where advice from experts on EU law is not welcome if those experts don’t hold a British passport.
Increasingly I find myself questioning whether this is still the Britain I so admired and fell in love with.

If Britain leaves the EU I no longer have automatic right to remain in this country. So together with 3.5 million EU citizens in he UK I am now weighing up my options:
I could do nothing and hope that common sense will prevail and I will be able to remain in this country – which seems risky and careless.
Or I could apply for British citizenship under Naturalisation, a process which is expensive, time-consuming and complicated – and which may mean I end up losing my German (and therefore European) citizenship.
Or I can explore my options of returning back to Germany – which, given that I have not lived in Germany for 26 years and never worked or paid taxes there, seems an unlikely solution.

It may just be that applying for British citizenship is my safest bet to ensure my future in this country. But I fear that even if I apply for and obtain citizenship, I will never feel British again in the same way I did when I was a Brit with a German passport.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Did Jesus Die On The Cross?

This blog seems to increasingly become the place where I answer complex Twitter questions. I got way more than 140 character here. :)

So, I don't believe that the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden is literally true.
And the statement which was put to me was "If there was no sin in the garden by a real Adam, then there is no need for a Saviour". And I guess the question is, why do I believe in Jesus anyway? And what do I believe about his death?

The question why (or if?) Jesus had to die on the cross is a great one, and one I ponder at least once a year - usually just before Easter when Christians relive and retell Jesus' last days on earth.

I guess the person asking the question made the assumption that we all have inherited Adam and Eve's 'original sin' and that Jesus had to be sacrificed in order to put things right with God. Personally speaking, that has never made sense to me. Firstly (as mentioned above) I don't read the story of The Fall as a literal event, and secondly I don't see why a loving all-powerful God can't simply forgive sin without demanding a human sacrifice for it.
However, I can see that the idea of atonement and sacrificing a scapegoat for the sins of others fits into the Old Testament thinking, so perhaps it made more sense in its time and place. Here is an example from Leviticus. Sacrificing animals was quite a thing 4000 years ago.

Today in 21st century Britain is makes a whole less sense.
There are many different theories and theologies about Jesus' death and atonement. Penal substitution is just one of them.
Don't get me wrong, the idea is certainly out there. Even in gentle CofE services have I come across the lyrics "It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished"...

But this blog isn't about the many different views about Jesus' death. It's about exploring what I believe about Jesus' death. It's a personal view rather than an exploration of the rights and wrongs of others.
So let me introduce Rev Mark Sandlin who I came across recently and whose views I often agree with. He  is an ordained PC(USA) minister serving at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. Mark is a co-founder of The Christian Left and blogs at The God Article and writes for Huffington Post, Sojourners and Patheos.

I love this article of his in particular - God Did Not Kill Jesus On The Cross For Our Sins, and it describes my own views pretty well.
Yes, I believe that Jesus came to restore our relationship with God and to challenge our "sinful ways". He did that by teaching and preaching, but mostly by modelling how we should treat each other, especially those who are powerless and marginalised.
He also did that by challenging those who believed themselves to be godly and in line with God's commandments - the Pharisees and religious leaders - by showing up and criticising their selfish and hypocritical ways.
He did that by taking on the establishment and by making a lot of enemies along the way.
In the end, that is what got him killed. His conviction of how to follow God's ways, how to build 'God's Kingdom' on earth, his determination to preach his message and his tenacity to pursue his purpose even when faced with brutality and death.

And that's why I believe Jesus died. And why I believe it is good and right to follow him, even in 21st century Britain. I believe that it is my duty to stand up for the marginalised  and vulnerable in society. I believe it is my duty to stand up against injustice - even or perhaps especially from the establishment and those in power. I believe that by doing so we have a chance to build a better and fairer world, or - as Jesus put it - build God's Kingdom on earth.

I also, sadly, believe that many of today's churches have gone the same way of the religious leaders which Jesus so criticised - by accumulating wealth and power, by trying to force their views onto other people, and by looking down on the poor and disadvantaged. If Jesus walked our streets today, he'd surely be turning tables over!

So there's my answer. I don't believe Jesus died to pay for my short comings and mistakes. Or Adam's or Eve's or anybody's. I believe that he died as a result of trying to show us a better way. The least I can do is try to follow his way as best as I can. And perhaps be less afraid of the consequences.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sourdough bread

We have made sourdough bread on and off for years, but for the last year or so I have made it quite regularly most weeks.
Here is our trusted sourdough bread recipe. It makes two 500g loaves.

The first thing you have to do is make a  sourdough starter. It takes a few days and is quite time consuming,  but once you have the starter it's always there ready for you to use. If you look after it it will last for ages. Like I said, mine is at least a year old.

Whilst writing this blog I did some reading up about sourdough.

Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally-occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Sourdough bread has a mildly sour taste not present in most breads made with baker's yeast and better inherent keeping qualities than other breads, due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli.
Sourdough bread is traditionally made with Rye flour, which contains relatively little gluten and therefore doesn't rise well with yeast alone.
Sourdough is teeming with bugs—some 50 million yeasts and 5 billion lactobacilli bacteria in every teaspoon of starter dough.

These two websites will tell you a bit more if you are interested.

You keep the starter in a clean airtight container where it lives in a semi-dormant state -  only to be revived when you take it out into the warmth and feed it (with flour).
If you make bread regularly, that will be enough to keep it going. If you don't bake regularly, you should remember to feed your sleepy starter once a week. A teaspoon full of sugar per week is enough.

As the recipe suggests you take a cup full of the starter out of the fridge the night before you want to bake, add warm water and bread flour and leave it covered in a warm place.
For this stage I tend to use white strong bread flour as I find it keeps the starter smooth and consistent.

During the night the yeast and lactobacilli come to life and get moving. By morning the mix should have formed bubbles like this.

Then you add the remaining ingredients.
At this stage I like to dabble with different flours. In addition to the white flour I like to use rye flour. It's more expensive than wheat flour, but adds taste and texture. I have also tried wholemeal flour and spelt flour, and I like to add some seeds.
Be aware though that different flours may react slightly differently. Wholemeal flour, for example, seems to absorb more water and can make the dough dry.
Bear in mind that you can always add more flour, but it's difficult to add more water to an already formed dough. So keep some flour aside to add as necessary, rather than dump it all in.

Knead the dough until it is elastic but not sticky. If it's sticky, sprinkle more flour onto the work surface to knead in.
I have never used a mixer and always knead my bread by hand.

When the dough is ready, place it in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise.

It should double in size ...

When the dough has risen, cut in into two halves to form into two loaves. There should be air pockets formed within the dough.

Shape the loaves, cutting slashes across the top and leave to rise until doubled in size again.

Then bake at gas mark 5/ 375 F/ 190 C for approximately 50 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped at the bottom.
I like my crust hard, so I brush the loaves with salt and/or honey water every 10 minutes or so whilst baking.
The loaves are flat, but tasty. Best with just butter I think.

And please share your own thoughts, recipes and experiences.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Iris (Book Review)

This is the first time I write a book review.

At the beginning of the year I realised that I have completely gotten out of the habit of reading books. I used to read all the time, and - if I had found a book that really grabbed me - could be spotted reading whilst knitting or even cooking.

So why have I stopped?
I expect lack of time has something to do with it. But mostly I blame social media.

So I decided to make it a daily practice to set time aside for reading.

The first book I picked up was "Iris", an biography about Dame Iris Murdock by her husband John Bayley.
I vaguely remember watching the film with Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet, and quite enjoying it.

It took me a while to get into the book, perhaps because I am out of the habit.
I came close to giving up, but persevered, perhaps because I didn't want to give up my new reading venture yet.

Perhaps the truth is that I like to find at least one character in a novel I can identify and journey with.

I found no such character in "Iris". This somewhat eccentric couple of academics in the literary world of 1950s Oxford seemed really quite alien and far removed.

More interesting to me was how Iris changed with her advancing Alzheimers. Perhaps all the more because she had been such a brilliant mind.
And I guess I needed to know the young Iris to understand how the dementia changed her...

I'm not sure if I would recommend the book, but perhaps I should try reading one of Iris' many novels one day?

But for now, what should I read next? Answer on a postcard...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

"Why do you believe [in God]?"

"Why do you believe?" - That was the question I was asked early on Sunday morning and I have been mulling it over for the last 8 hours.

Why do I believe in God?
I suppose the simplest answer is because I have believed in God for as long as I can remember and I cannot imagine not believing in God.
Those who know me, know that I am not adversed to questioning and scrutinising religious teaching, scripture and authority. I do it all the time. It's my questions, my doubts and my criticisms which shape my faith.
But never, not in my darkest moments or times of doubt have I not believed in God.God simply is part of my life.

In my mind seeking God is deeply ingrained into the human psyche, whether we are religious or not, or believe in God or not. Perhaps we call that seeking by different names.
I know that I can only speak from my own perception and experience, so forgive me if I do, but I sometimes wonder how atheists can deny that God-shaped hole in their lives. The only way I can imagine it being denied is, well, by denial.
(I am sure many of my atheist friends will disagree. And that's okay. I'll probably hear about it.) :)

To any who at this stage feel inclined to say "So you believe in God. That's fine ... but which of the thousands of G/gods out there??" I would reply that I don't think it matters all that much. Religions are simply human attempts to put the concept of God into human words.
Different religions seem to emphasize different attributes of G/god(s) and at the same time share many similarities.
But outside of all those human concepts G/god(s) does exist or not. Regardless of what we believe about him/her/them (or not).

Why then am I a Christian?
I am sure much is to do with culture and familiarity. If I was born in Afghanistan I'd be more likely a Muslim, if in India a Hindu. It just so happens that I was born in Europe into a Roman Catholic family.

I think my criticism of Christian doctrine may put me on the periphery of Christianity. I quite like the words of Richard Rohr who calls it "being on the edge of the inside". That sounds like a good place to me!
Occasionally people have said to me that I am deist, not a Christian.
I disagree.
Despite being on the edge of the inside, I feel quite firmly part of the Christian faith. Perhaps it's the person of Jesus that keeps me there. Jesus, who said "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" and "I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you" leaves me believing that his teachings, words and example are worth reading, mulling over and putting into practice.

By that I don't mean blindly following what others tell me. Quite the contrary. It requires me to dig deep and search for myself what it means to "be like Jesus" in this world here and now, wherever I go and whoever I meet.
I know how Jesus' teachings fitted into first century Palestine because the gospel writers left their records.
And I know from Paul's letters how he felt it should be applied as he travelled to other countries and engaged with other cultures.

One of the beauties of the Christin faith is that we believe that we are all flawed and prone to make mistakes. And that gives me the right, or even the responsibility, to scrutinise what others think and say about my faith. And to discern for myself whether they are right or wrong.
The gospel writers and Paul are not here to live according to Jesus' teachings in secular Britain in the 21st century. But I am!

So yes, I do believe that one day I will meet God and that I will account for the things I said (and didn't say) and that things I did (and didn't do), as well as my thoughts and attitudes towards others.
And it won't do any good to say "I did these things because my pastor or vicar or imam or guru or teacher or parent or husband etc told me so".
It will be down to me, and me alone.

Will I always be a Christian? It may be arrogant to claim that I will, although I cannot imagine ever not to be.
But wherever my faith journey takes me, I don't think I can ever be an atheist and not believe that God is here.

There you have it, @hellboy2112. I don't know if it answered your question, but it has passed a rainy Sunday.
Much love. :)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 The Recap

I know, I know. 2015 is so LAST YEAR!
But before 2016 really gets going, it's not such a bad idea to have a brief look at what the last year had to offer.

2015 was, all in all, not a bad year.

It started with the birth of the #ToriesMustGo beanie - born out of the desire to see the back of the Tory party in government, inspired by a Twitter hashtag and thought up by @SkelMawhrin who still valiantly wears it in his Twitter avi. The free pattern is available on Ravelry.

Sadly the message that #ToriesMustGo did not spread far and wide enough as the general election in May was to prove.
So 2015 became the year in which I became a member of the Labour party and emailed all undecided Labour MPs in June, urging them to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership contest. And (by the skin of their teeth) they did. :)

In July I joined some marching buddies at the Durham Miner's Gala. Definitely an experience and hoping to join again this year.

Crowds, much laughter and even more drinking...

Oh yes, and political speeches ...

More political action in October, when I joined Walking the Breadline and a group of Scousers in their march from Liverpool to Manchester to the Tory Conference.
We held up some traffic and shouted until we were hoarse.

I also had the opportunity to meet up with @davegore2005 and @VonGrime, two of my fave Twitter friends. A bit exciting and a huge pleasure to meet you guys for the first time.

2015 was also the year our youngest left home to go to university.

That gave hubby and me the opportunity to remind ourselves what it is like to be (just) a couple again.
We spent much time cycling and under floorboards together and found out that we indeed still like each other's company. Bonus!

2015 was the year we raised chicks from eggs and I finally started to take the allotment more seriously.

So all in all a productive year and a joyful one.

I have so much to be grateful for. So many friends, acquaintances and loved ones. So many interests, hobbies and areas I can learn more about and develop further.

Possibly one of my greatest joys is to create and make new things, to develop new ideas and let them grow.
So I am looking forward to doing more of that in the future.

Thank you to all of you who are my friends. For your support, honesty and inspiration. I would be a far lesser person without you.
I hope you'll stick around in 2016. x

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween/Samhain/All Hallows Eve

Today is my birthday.
It is also the day when children wear costumes and come knocking on your door trick-and-treating.
And also Samhain, the time when pagans believe the veil between the world of the living and the dead to be at it's thinnest.

I was born and grew up in Germany, long before the curious tradition of Trick-and-treating came over from the US. And living in a Catholic family I knew nothing about Samhain either. So the 31st of October was just another day. Which also happened to be my birthday.
The day after, the 1st November, however was a special day. All Saints Day, a holiday in the Catholic calendar.
As I got older, having a day off on the day after your birthday party became a distinct advantage. ;)

However, having a day off school didn't mean lazing around in bed. It meant spending the better part of the day traipsing across church yards to visit the graves of dead relatives. Not so much fun when you are a kid ... but an opportunity to hear old stories and to learn about people I had never had the chance to meet.

Looking at the present season with the shortening of the daylight, the dying down of vegetation and falling of the leaves; with the temperature dropping and the wildlife getting ready for the winter ahead; it's no wonder that our ancestors turned towards pondering life and death and their own mortality at this particular time of year.
And perhaps it's right that we should do so too.

I don't visit graveyards anymore. But I like to think about those who have gone before me. Those who have made me and shaped me. Those who helped me become who I am today. Those who didn't always get it right, but tried their best. Those who gave me everything and I owe them so much. Those who helped shape the world and society I live in now. Those who created, invented and discovered all the things we now take for granted.
And I ponder if in even a tiny way I may be able to shape and contribute to life in a positive way too.

So forgive me if I don't celebrate Halloween. If you come knocking on my door, you won't get any sweets. I won't even open it.
That's partly because Halloween just isn't a part of me. But also because I dislike the hype and consumerism attached to it. And because to me it teaches our children that you get nice things by threating to do bad things in turn. For me it's no more than Consumerism-meets-blackmail.

So forgive this grumpy old woman for not opening her door. It's her birthday!