In Praise of… Multiculturalism

London is said to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world. This may be in part thanks to Colonialism’s insidious reign, but fortunately it would be one of the positive things to work out of that grim history. The years have seen London in a consistent state of flux as new waves of immigrants of various shades, beliefs and experiences embrace the capital city as home. I live in one of the most diverse boroughs in London at present: Hackney, though, sadly that seems to be changing gradually.

I hail from Southern California, a town that a taxi-driver in Tijuana once referred to as ‘Little Mexico’ owing to the large numbers of Mexican farm labourers in particular. I grew up with friends of all backgrounds, ethnicity, income. As a child, it just wasn’t a thing to label people. We Californians pride ourselves on being different – and on not being known for our racism. However it does exist… boy, does it. I went through a spell as a teenager of racial hatred and white supremacy. As people we tend to identify someone to hang our hardships on and in my case I directed certain feelings towards certain people. If I could travel back in time I would give myself an extraordinary backhand.

But as a recovering racist* living in London now for almost a decade, its beauty in shades of skin, language landscape and tolerance for beliefs, it’s got to be one of the things at the top of my list about this place. Living here has further broken the back of my racist self, it’s challenged me to question my own beliefs, particularly where these beliefs put my back up against anyone else’s. Tolerance isn’t such a bad word in my book. Possibly not the best word, but not a bad one.

My fellow country-folk are in jeopardy of losing the benefit of such a multicultural stance on life: the way it changes you if you allow it to. It’s frightening to be vulnerable like that, to feel that your own culture and ways may be threatened. But if these ways are to be, they will remain unchanged, at least where they’re most truthfully and sincerely held. But with an openhandedness rather than a closed-off-ness. Or a balled up fist.

At any rate and having cast my absentee ballot today in favour of the other guy (not the one with the rage and bad toupee), I also cast my ballot (metaphorically speaking) in favour of a city that just welcomed its first Muslim mayor. Sorry to pigeonhole you, Sadiq but I’m hopeful you understand that I’m not trying to limit you to just that, but to help others see that it really doesn’t matter or that a bit of difference helps us all.

*Some other guy came up with this recovering racist thing on FB. Admittedly I didn’t watch his video or read his blog or whatever, but I think I get it. Racism is so ingrained in us it’s hard to ever really be free of it. I can only hope my fear or hatred of the other dies more with each passing day.

In Praise of… Multiculturalism

In Praise of… being a (parent of a) toddler in London

The Stonehenge of Hackney – Middlesex Filter Beds

Having spent three months in the states with a toddler, my husband and I were shocked at the lack of things we could find to do with her that were free or low cost. Perhaps it was down to us not being familiar with the area, but from what we could see, the parks were fantastic, but the library story sessions were pretty pathetic and everything else costed a fortune in memberships and subscriptions. Coming from our London context where immediately we were directed to free and low cost activities to while away the time on maternity leave and beyond, it was frightening to feel left with nothing.

Let’s zero in on Hackney & East London where we’re resident, since for all I know there is next to nothing on offer in West London.

Friends, Health Visitors and others were quick to suggest various play groups held at the local children’s centres within walking distance. We benefited from free-of-charge access to baby massage, stay and play sessions, baby sign classes, messy play and music groups. The providers were mostly very hands-on, remembering each child by name from week to week, enquiring about parents’ well being, and creatively crafting sessions enjoyable by both carers/parents and children. To say I admire these people who spend their hours caring for new parents and children would be an understatement.

With maternity leave stretching to 11 months for me (another post to come yet very relevant to the availability of provision for non-newborns in the states) there was a lot of time and many stages of my child’s and my own development to fill. Particularly in the winter months it was a real safety net to be able to get out to a place nearby that you didn’t have to afford, where you could look as disheveled as the next person, and just be. I think these places are tax money very well spent.

Another incredible pro to such offerings made available by local authorities (and some churches) is that it’s inclusive. It doesn’t end up being a posse of ‘yummy mummies’ who tick the same boxes in life, but you find yourself in the mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, professions or none, and children can no doubt only benefit from such an environment when it comes to relating to humans in a multicultural place like London. The longer my daughter can go without noticing someone can be labelled differently to her, the better.

So, that covers children’s centres and such. We’ve also got incredible museums in London – for the most part all free of entry charge. See mummies, dinosaurs, incredible artwork, ships and a sampling of childhood toys gone for the cost of getting there. Most museums have child-friendly experiences like soft play areas, activity packs to take around, and sensory areas. Even the occasional museum or space charging admission is normally quite reasonable such as the Discover Centre which charges a low one-time or membership fee, or the Transport Museum where one admission lasts an entire year.  Arguably, however, these memberships may be less than affordable for people on a very hand-to-mouth existence.

Even in grey England, one of the things we’ve most benefited from is time outdoors spent in the abundance of public parks and open spaces in London, and specifically in Hackney. We live near the marshes which are well managed open spaces to see wildlife and to catch a glimpse of the horizon (rare in London). There are woodlands to traipse through (investing in a good pair of wellies and waterproofs, words that didn’t appear in my vocab until I moved here) and rivers and canals to follow along. There’s a movement of natural play areas rather than simply plastic and metal playgrounds. One such play area takes place in Adventure Playgrounds, an American lawyer’s fantasy. These areas are frequently built in an area reclaimed from bomb damage with crazy climbing frames, gutted black cabs, fire pits, etc, all to let kids be wild and learn risks rather than aversion.  Again, tax dollars happily spent.

Finally, there are a couple movements we’ve seen that we love: Forest Kids and Play Streets. Play Streets are an initiative whereby a neighbourhood street can be closed down, stewarded, and set up for the enjoyment of local kids to cycle, hoop, draw with chalk, etc. all over the streets. It brings neighbours together and brings kids out who might not have parental support to get out to parks as much as they should. Vitamin D is a real deficiency here (as in most of the office-based world) as I have learned, now chowing down tablets every day and dosing our daughter with the (free) vitamin drops we get from the chemist, so any extra time spent outside is a winner.

Forest Kids (and Forest School) is a movement that began, I think, as an alternative to the indoor activities of children’s centres, nurseries and even schools. It’s being adapted now increasingly by service providers themselves and our childrne’s centre takes kids out in all weather to climb trees, dig in the mud and run free for hours at a time. We have a local group that meets up on Monday mornings to go to one of our woodland or marsh areas to explore. It’s good for vitamin-D deficient mommas like me and for the kids as well.

While it is, no doubt, challenging to bring up a child in London, these things make it possible for a child to thrive here in ways that you have to make a very concentrated effort to do so in the states (from what I can observe as an outsider in this regard). It’s given me insight into helping people become stronger, more connected, more broadly exposed and cultured people from the very get-go. No matter what their financial status might be.

In Praise of… being a (parent of a) toddler in London

In Praise Of… leaving home

There are many ways in which I’ve changed in the span of 13 years of living in the United Kingdom. In part it’s down to the life changes I’ve gone through of maturing from a mid-20-something, of marrying and becoming a mother. But also it’s due to the course of my life and the decisions I’ve made and those who I’ve surrounded myself with. It’s come down to jubilations and crises.

I think if there was any piece of wisdom I, in my 38 years, could offer to anybody willing to listen, it would be to travel*. Get out of your place of comfort, away from the people you feel safe with, and let life beat you up, polish you up and change you utterly – away from home. In order for this to happen you have to spend a good while away though, not just a long vacation, not just a ‘mission trip’. But truly imbibe the new culture to which you’ve relocated, however temporarily. Don’t pine for the place you’ve left, don’t solely partake of the offerings given from your native place, whether through entertainment or reading. And given our new globally connected reality, this is easier said than done. Don’t surround yourself with only nationals of your own place who have also relocated. Become one of the locals, let it get into your bones. Talk differently. Even if you do sound like an ass to begin with.

I remember that at Bible College, before being sent to a foreign nation, the message was grafted into us, don’t become one of them, wherever you go. Always come back to the states yearly so that you don’t ‘go native’. I call bullshit. Go native. Be brave enough to let yourself become conflicted in your identity. After all, your identity shouldn’t be first and foremost as a national of any nation. But as a human, and if you subscribe to such ideology, as a child of God. Go native as a child of the universe, and smash the lenses you’ve been nurtured to wear. In less kind language I could say, the lenses you’ve been brainwashed to look through. But that’s just culture, it’s how we are, it’s what we do.

I have changed politically. I have changed in my relationship to food. My relationship to transport has changed. I garden and don’t always kill things. My faith has changed drastically. My understanding of God has increased wonderfully, even if it’s left me more puzzled overall. I have met people in this multicultural society I never would have encountered deeply – I’ve seen all continents from this place. I’ve made friends, lost friends and seen friends die. I’ve met new souls in the shape of babes. It has been rich. I am incredibly wealthy as a result.

I hope that I can share some of my impressions of living in Europe via a series of blog posts, In Praise of…

These things might exist quite obviously elsewhere, but in my journey they’ve been found here, in the United Kingdom. They’re things I’ll forever carry with me, unless my next cultural experience challenges them and allows these things to morph as well.

*As a caveat here, I realise, not everyone has the privilege to travel, not for indeterminate periods of time at least. It’s my hope that in writing this series and making suggestions about how to take advantage of our globally connected world, that wherever we find ourselves, in whatever situation, we might be able to challenge our conceptions, to live more expansively and to get out of our comfort zones, even if just by discussing a talk by a foreign speaker or reading a book by someone with an opposing view to our own. Life’s too rich not to explore.

In Praise Of… leaving home


Yes, privilege is a real buzz word these days. Normally I shy away from trends (I refused to watch Friends until around 2000, my convictions were so strong), yet this is one that while I feel tremendously uncomfortable with it, owing to my own privilege which I am increasingly becoming aware of, I feel responsible for forcing myself to face it.

I was riding on the train this morning, for some reason thinking about being an ex-patriot. I have left my home, not due to difficulties or dangers, but because opportunity showed up and I had the resources available, either of my own possession or via contacts who had them. I have lived in the UK for nearly twelve years and in London for almost nine. London is an inhospitable place for anyone, so I am very alert to the fact that I have exceeded many people’s capacity to remain, and that mostly due to the love and support of others who have provided for our work to continue.

But I’ve always had a place to return to if it doesn’t work out. I have credit cards to fall back on if I can’t even afford a flight or place to rest my head. I have family with space to spare.

Through no work of my own I have started life out on a better platform with regards to material resources and education. I am privileged. My skin is white, my faith is Christian, my nationality is American.

There was a time during my first years here, during the Iraq war, that being an American was anything but good internationally. American travelers were advised to put Canadian patches on their backpacks. I remember being scared witless by an activist who came into our internet cafe at the community centre, and this is before my days becoming an activist myself, who was looking at graphic pictures of casualties caused by American troops. He looked at webpages that spoke out against Americans in a way that made me very uncomfortable. I heard people talking disdainfully about Americans on the bus and I kept my mouth shut, fearing for my own safety (or possibly just my own comfort). I stumbled on a rally in Trafalgar Square where people held placards decrying Bush as a murderer. It was an intense period as an American ex-pat who was vastly more conservative.

But at any time I could have retreated to a ‘safe’ place.

Now, when people query my accent, a warm California glow spreads across their face when they learn of my ‘home’. In their estimation, quite often, I rise in value and interest just based on my birthplace, though they think I am absolutely mad for ever leaving.

I question if my accent was different, if my skin was darker, if my trajectory was East to West instead, would I be so well received. Would I be labelled differently?





In reality, the humans who are making journeys across dangerous waters, across lands whose people will not accept them, they are Ex-pats just like me. We have different reasons for our migrations, but I reckon that theirs is more valid if we need to make comparison or judge merit. Yet my privilege ups my credit score in terms of my humanity, my trustworthiness, what I have to offer. This may be utter bullshit but it is the case.

I may have had to jump through hoops to get where I am and to remain here, to proudly wear the label of ex-pat, but others have been prohibited from access to those very hoops. All based on fear. Fear of differences. Privilege.

I could offer to strip off the badge of ‘ex-pat’ in exchange for that of ‘migrant’, but even that is a privilege I’m afforded. At this point, writing this is becoming an unfolding discourse in my own mind and one not destined to get very far on its own. I suppose as a woman I can see that a man cannot disavow himself of his privilege by exchanging labels, and doing so will not further my status in life. His working to ensure that the privilege he possesses goes towards creating more equal power structures perhaps is the only answer I can imagine. Ensuring others are equally educated, equally rich, equally given opportunities. Working to change the minds and prejudices of people, privileged or otherwise, will take a very long time. But we’ve got to keep trying to win incremental battles.

How you deal with your own privilege? And to those who find themselves less privileged in various ways, how can people best change the world without seeming like patronising fools?


Book Review: Your Vocational Credo

your vocational credoMy dear friend Deborah Koehn Loyd has come out with her first book, Your Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose (IVP). While I’m very proud of her and the things she’s accomplished over the last few years, Deborah has mostly inspired and challenged me, both personally and through this book. If you’ve read my blog once or twice you may have read that I struggle with my sense of calling and purpose, mostly floundering between projects and finding it difficult to identify the common themes that make me ME. I’ve had a few conversations with Deborah about this (and can recommend her for vocational counselling!) and this book has just taken those discussions further and given me the time to process through her insights.

Visiting Deborah & husband Ken in 2010

To be perfectly honest, I’ve not made my way through the book entirely as I’ve encountered some reasons that I have struggled to identify my strengths, weaknesses, emotions and calling, so these need working through in parallel. But the book speaks for itself with its insights and stories from Deborah’s own vocational trajectory and that of others generous enough to share their journeys through her book. Deborah uses humour, compassion and issues challenges through these stories and pointed reflective questions at the end of each chapter.


I particularly have identified with her labelling of ‘toxic skills’ as I have settled into many jobs I should excel at due to my skill-set but which have robbed me of life and fulfillment. Knowing that this is what I’m experiencing and not just my own struggles with bucking the system or laziness is like a paradigm shift. I look forward to pressing into her questions in due course but thought it would be good to get word out while it’s hot off the press.

You can get this gem via Amazon (US or UK). Please do write a review when you’ve read it!

Book Review: Your Vocational Credo

Reflections on Storybombing

“I’m just going to call you Banksy,” the woman said smiling as she walked away as I snipped A2 map_adthe black cable ties from the iron fence on Rushmore Road. The woman had come out of her house near where a story shared by Sharlene had been displayed. She, like me, had no idea that the site of her home use to be an Adventure Playground in the 80s, teeming with young people doing things any insurance agent would get a fluttering heart over. She was like everyone else who had spoke to us about the project: delighted.

It was late Spring when the idea occurred to me: Storybombing. Turns out that’s a word that a) doesn’t exist, b) doesn’t sit particularly well with older people who were children during the war, c) people just don’t really ‘get’ due to not even knowing about ‘yarnbombing’ from which I adopted this new word. At any rate, people eventually came around to the notion and Co-conspirator Valerie and I ended up displaying over 40 stories across Lower Clapton for 10 days. We couldn’t have been more pleased- and surprised- with the results.

Stories were hung from shop windows (such as Elliot’s story about his favourite toy shop), community centres (June and Vera, originally from Jamaica, who have been active members for over 20 years), park benches (Sue who shared about a dark and difficult time), fence railings (a young Frances who remembers the old 38 bus being retired at its terminus), from bushes, in playgrounds, at a church, in front of homes and at a school. We couldn’t have done much more to hit different areas of our community more comprehensively. Even the majority of stories hung on public property remained for the duration of the street exhibition, though technically we were flyposting.

There were some interesting encounters with a couple local businesses which I will only disclose because I think they’re fairly representative of where our ‘regenerating’/’gentrifying’ community is at just now, and a big reason this project came about to begin with. Interestingly they both involved the same story, written by my own other half, regarding a social squat he was a part of several years ago. His story told of how these disused spaces had been reclaimed by a collective of people wanting to give an open space back to the community. There were classes offered for free, a free shop, a place to get a free hot drink. The space had two homes on Lower Clapton Road; one is now an upscale hair dresser, the other an estate agent.

I first went into the hair dresser and was greeted by people who represent the new face of Hackney. They would not, and could not as they maintained, entertain the idea of anything being hung in their windows as it was prohibited by ‘policy.’ I was welcomed to put the story down with their magazines, sure to get lost or to be taken away. I protested but they absolutely would not budge and, I felt, thought it was beneath their image to do so.

So off I trundled to the previous location, a newish independent estate agent, and was greeted by a nice enough guy. I explained the project to him, but he seemed to immediately recoil at the fact that the shop had not long ago been a squat. He wasn’t as into the irony of the situation as I was. He interjected to begin telling me about how community-minded they were as an agent: helping people find housing (affordability another topic!), offering advertisement for trades people and a community board. He welcomed me to display the story on the board, along with a litter of business cards and job adverts. I queried whether he would indeed be happy for people to come in off the streets solely to read the story, and he assured me it would be fine. It definitely wasn’t an exercise in openness on their part as far as I’m concerned, but it was better than nothing.

Both of these new businesses were so enamoured with their appearance they refused to compromise in order to do a good deed for the community and take part in something bigger than themselves. Ten days in the great scheme of things was too much for them to display a well-designed A4 in their window, though it would have brought them potential business and engaged residents who would never feel the welcome or ability to utilise their services due to financial constraints. It was so disappointing but sadly, a fair indicator of what our community is up against. Pair these encounters with the lack of response on the council’s part, though they are asking people to share stories of living in Hackney as part of their consultation, it doesn’t look great. On the flip side, there was also a lot of really good energy from other businesses, some long-time, some newer, so let’s not let a few rotten apples spoil things.

Removing the stories on the last day it really felt like we got away with something wonderful. I am already beginning to think about next year. If there were 42 stories in 2015, how many might we get for next year! My hope is that these stories will initiate conversations about Lower Clapton & Homerton’s past, current situation with mid-day shootings taking place as people dine on crepes, and where we go from here.

People who couldn’t visit the exhibition on foot have been able to view the entire tour online, and you can too. It’ll be left online to be viewed indefinitely. So check it out at

Reflections on Storybombing

New blog! Journeying through the Christian Calendar

I’ve learnt, mostly thanks to this adventure of parenthood, that we humans are hard-wired for routine, both diurnally and seasonally. Being from southern California where the seasons are slight (I enjoy celebrating Christmas in a tank top and flip flops at the beach, thank you very much), seasons aren’t something to which I’m accustomed. We seldom benefited from a true rainy season even. Santa Ana dry winds and heat versus milder overcast days are what have forged my weather (in)tolerance for the most part.

Britain has introduced me to changes in weather, trees colouring then losing their leaves in a noticeable manner, distinct differences in light levels, and yet even here the seasons aren’t dramatic. Even so, I’ve come to identify more with annual changes both in myself and in the world around me. Come spring my body begins to unfurl like a new shoot, reaching towards every minute of sunlight (past 7am at any rate; I do not approve of 4:30am sunrise any time of year), feeling that invitation to grow more and achieve more in the long days. Winter can send me reeling a bit with the draw to the indoors, yet this has been helped by an energetic child who needs fresh air every day possible.

We can reflect on our days, when we work best, when we begin to tire. Times for creativity and times for hard labour. As a woman I can see changes in my monthly energy cycle and where I can best channel my efforts either looking towards a creative week or a more reflective few days. As a Mom I see these cycles most clearly on a minute scale from my child. She is a schedule stickler.

We’ve come to protect sleep times as otherwise the fallout is dangerous and has a knock-on effect for days to follow. We learned early on that children respond best to routine as they feel comfort in knowing what to expect next. When changes approach they need fair warning. I thought I’d be much more of a hippie free spirit when it came to parenting but she has taught me that there can be freedom in structure.

What’s the point. One of my biggest struggles for my whole life and most definitely on a spiritual level for the last few years since I’ve begun sharing my life with one other and now two other humans, has been discipline with my time. Spiritually this has meant that I’m feeling rather disconnected from the larger community of Jesus followers as I am particularly wired for community when spiritual practices are in question, struggling with an individualistic or personal faith, and also that I feel a disconnect with God. It’s been further impaired by being unable to find a church group where I have felt I could fully dig myself in for a variety of reasons.

My church background is varied. I’m a great friend of and critic of the church. As a community of people owning up to their own brokenness and enveloping others who have that same realisation, brilliant. As an institution of power, not so much. I grew up in an American Baptist church where my fondest memories are of the youth group which I got into nothing but trouble with and of the assistant pastor during my childhood who always gave me gum. I quit going to church when I was 16, basically as soon as I could get out of it, then I returned when I was 18 and my boyfriend started treatment for an aggressive cancer. You probably could have knocked my Mom over with a feather when I asked her to buy me a Bible. What I received was a lilac women’s devotional Bible. I marked it up most memorably when I read Paul’s seemingly misogynistic comments about women and that there would be no sea in heaven. Way to insult an aspiring marine biologist and opinionated woman. Again, future post.

In university I started going to an ’emergent church’ service which was part of a rather Baptisty congregation. People danced a bit and moved. They clapped. I could close my eyes and see angels, it was so fresh and gave me so much hope that following Jesus could be creative, fresh and fun. Unfortunately my college friends left when the annually cyclical nature of the messages became a bit tiresome, and they went to a Reformed congregation which could not be more different. It was staunchly Calvinist, violently homophobic, obsessed with having answers to prove our faith. Ah, yes and women were to remain perfectly silent, except perhaps for in childbirth which they seemed to think you should definitely partake in. It was the homophobia that sent me running for the hills when they laughed about a local gay-welcoming church burning down. I went to the next most obvious place: a charismatic megachurch congregation an hour away.

I was the least positive person in history about spiritual gifts including tongues and healing. It offended every inch of me, even though I had dabbled in witchcraft as a teen and welcomed spiritual manifestations like this where that was involved. It took time to break down my walls and open me up to something like this happening in a church and in Jesus’ name. Eventually I came around and spent the next several years seeing legit miracles and a lot of hype which I fell for hook line and sinker. Then humans worked their own dis-miracles on me and my entire construct of church crumbled. The pain of betrayal,fakery and harsh judgementalism rocked my faith, coupled with burnout thanks to some personal stuff which the church did not help me through and my exhausting efforts to assemble a bunch of wounded Christians who hated church but loved Jesus. And here we are.

What you might notice has not featured in my spiritual practices is tradition or liturgy. I could tell you, of course when it was Easter and Christmas, otherwise every day was the same. We had our own routines in church services but they seemed more spontaneous than scripted (although most were in fact quite timetabled). I could not get my head around sitting in a service and saying the same words each and every week or singing, God forbid, prayers from some heavy book. Now, I can see the poetry in it, and I can sense the comfort of the expected. My last two churches have been a crazy, fairly liberal Anglican church with an incredible sensation of peace and a fairly ethnically and theologically diverse United Reformed Church. Both welcome you with service sheets full of prayers and responses.

I’m not sold 100% on the rigid liturgy of these churches as they impose a hierarchy on who can do and say what when. They don’t allow everyone to contribute equally and on the spot. But there’s room for premeditated worship in my heart now. Knowing people through the ages have said the same words and that someone will say those words in another language on the same day bring me joy and that connectivity I’ve been missing. I just wish there was a contemplative, charismatic, left-leaning church for me and my like-minded pals. Too bad we’re rather scattered or we could form one.

This brings me to the crux of the post today. Finding myself a bit lost in the scale of the year, aside from the warm sun on my back, I am lacking the fluid connection to the larger gospel story as celebrated year-round. This is not something I’ve ever been good at. Lent? What the heck is that?! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT touch my chocolate! Pancake day? Sounds good to me, but what is the story behind it? I can’t help but feel that I’m being robbed of a reflective and mighty tool to keep me woven into the story of Christ and Christians throughout history and worldwide by not observing the seasons of the Christian Calendar. I am human, and therefore I am habitual, governed by seasons, by the sun and the moon.

So for the next year I’m going to endeavour, hopefully not too pitiably, to follow the Christian Calendar and to blog about it. I hope to explore it in relation to my spirituality, to creativity, to womanhood, to activism and whatever else tickles my fancy when the time strikes. I’d like to invite you to join me. Follow these new adventures via my new blog which I’m drawing a complete blank on for a creative title… I feel all grown up and exposed having a blog bearing my actual name! Please follow me on over and let’s see where this goes!

New blog! Journeying through the Christian Calendar