Isaiah to Paul: From Feeling Rotten – to the Fruits of the Spirit

One of my very first sermons, I was still in training – but it’s not a bad effort and does have something valuable to say.

 

Have you ever thought, ‘I can’t do this’, or ‘I’m useless at that’?  Have you ever refused to try to do something, saying, ‘I’m not clever like you’, or I’m not…’ or ‘I can’t…’  That’s what Moses said when God called him in Exodus 4:10, ‘But Moses said, “No, Lord, don’t send me. I have never been a good speaker, and I haven’t become one since you began to speak to me. I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant.” Today’s reading are about people coming to recognise what they can offer even when they’ve thought they were really useless.

 The reading from Isaiah comes when God is going to restore Israel to the land.  They’ve been exiled in Babylon for about 70 years and they’ve heard every possible criticism from their prophets during that time.  They’ve been told how sinful they were, that all their actions and behaviour have been wrong for ages, their precious city, Jerusalem, the city of the lord they’ve heard described as a harlot.  They’ve been downtrodden among the Babylonians and cast down by God.  They’ve been so miserable its unbelievable – they’ve been utterly shattered, and worst of all, it seemed that God didn’t love them anymore. 

 Imagine if something like this happened to you, your whole community transplanted to a nasty council estate on the edge of some really wealthy area where you could see how the other half live but live in grotty circumstances yourselves; your working folk condemned to work on the bins; and your church back home burnt down. Worst of all, some spiritual authority comes along, maybe the Bishop, and tells you you’re all useless and its all happened because you were so sinful.

 You’d feel truly awful.  Now, Isaiah, who certainly took his share of having a go at the people for their awfulness, comes along with a series of songs of joy.  He’s telling the people that God still loves them.  That their city is to be his Bride.  That a time of rejoicing is coming.  Do they deserve it?  Well, according to all the prophesies until just before this one, presumably not.  But God is infinitely generous, they’ve been through their bad times and God has wiped the slate clean, but he’s not waiting for them to start behaving properly again before he starts telling them the good news of what’s coming, he’s rejoicing in it, and asking them to rejoice with him.

 God asking us to rejoice with him is part of what happens at Cana, when Jesus turns the water into wine.  Its something more than that though, we’re not just rejoicing at a wedding that Jesus happened to be invited to, after all, we’re not even told who’s getting married, the wedding isn’t an important part of the story at all.  What we’re rejoicing in is that Jesus turned the water into wine.  In one translation I’ve seen its even described as ‘foot-washing water’, not necessarily the best quality water then.  That’s us.  Just jars of water and not the best water at that.  And with that infinite generosity that is so much the nature of our God, Jesus turns us into wine.  And not just any old wine either, the best wine.  I’ve probably never drunk wine as good as the wine served up at Cana, my limit for a bottle of wine is £5 in Tesco; reasonable wine, but far from the best.  But the wine Jesus serves, like the water he offered to the Samarian woman in John 4 was more than just water,  is more than just wine.  The best wine is that which is of Jesus, the wine of his gift to us.  And that is what our jars of foot-washing water are filled with.  In his generosity, Jesus re-makes our nature of not particularly special with his gift that remakes us into the best wine.

 Now lets think of some people who don’t particularly feel awful but who probably think of themselves as not having any particular strengths, nothing in particular to offer to others.  People who don’t really think of themselves as being of value to their community.  Know some people like that?  Of course you do, there may even be some you know who you think of like that.

 Well that’s the sort of community who Paul is talking of.   People who don’t know or value their own gifts.  And people who don’t value each other’s gifts.  That’s the gifts that God gave them, the gifts that God has given you.

 

When Jesus remakes us as the very best wine we definitely have gifts, not that we deserve them, we are still the very imperfect people that we always were but we all have something to give.  So there are two things we have to do with that, we have to use our gifts and not hide from them, Jesus said, in Mk 4:21: “Does anyone ever bring in a lamp and put it under a bowl or under the bed? Doesn’t he put it on the lampstand?   We also have to try to see those gifts in other people, see how the light of the Lord lights them up too!

 The gifts that Paul is talking about in his letter aren’t particularly meaningful to us today, so what sort of gifts might we think about when we look around us.  What sort of gifts do we see in ourselves, in other people; what sort of gifts do we see as needed by the church or by the community?

 There are some gifts that we easily recognise in the Church, gifts of speaking, gifts of making music, the gifts that make for good planners and committee workers, but there are other gifts that we either don’t notice or undervalue.

 There are the practical gifts, the abilities to make and mend; the abilities to clean and sort out stuff.  Useful to the church when something is broken, dirty or chaotic but useful too in the community.  Do you know someone who can’t afford tradespeople and is having to put up with things being broken in their home?  Or someone who has come through some kind of crisis and could really do with a bit of help putting their home back to rights?  You might think you don’t want to be seen as ‘interfering’ but its not interfering to be available to others to ask for help when they need it.  You might not think of something like fixing your neighbour’s broken cot as a particularly Christian service, but caring about your neighbour is where its all at.

 But there is one gift that is truly special and is not only undervalued, it is hardly noticed.  It’s the gift of listening. We live in a society where it’s the noisy gifts that get noticed, this is the quietest gift of all – but its oh, so precious.   Do you know someone who’s really quiet but who somehow gets to hear everyone’s tales of trouble?  Someone who always seems to have time to listen to others.  Now there’s a real gift and usually, the people who possess it don’t even realize.

 So look at yourself, what gifts do you have?  Not as something to be proud of, after all, your gifts are gifts from God, not something you own but something you can be grateful for.  So, being grateful for them, what do you do with them?  How can you offer them to others?

 And what gifts do you see in your neighbours?  It may be that, looking at someone you don’t even like, you may see some marvelous gift, some quality that they are itching to use in the service of the community around them.  We are told to love our neighbours and sometimes that’s not easy, but if we can’t love them, we can at least value them – it’s a step in the right direction!

 So, we, the jars of poor quality water, turned into the best wine by Jesus, need to see how to offer that wine to others, how to appreciate the Jesus-given qualities of our fellows and truly, how to be glad and thankful to Jesus for the change that he has made, and continues to make in our basic nature. 

 

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Bedroom Tax: Impact on Mental Healt

Caerphilly Bed Tax Speech Mar 14

Mental Health – not just mental illness.
• If we’ve got mental health, we’re lucky, and we should value it.
• If we haven’t got it, we still might not be mentally ill – just been through too much shit.
• Doctors like to say all mental health problems are ‘illnesses’ – wrong chemicals in the brain
* From personal experience
* Working experience
I know that loads of people considered mentally ill have suffered trauma
• Trauma can be:
* Major one-off events
* Major long-term distress
* And the sort of stress that we could cope with short term – but it just goes on and on.
All contributing to mental health problems – whether we call them ‘illness’ or not.
• Welfare ‘reform’ – the Bedroom tax presents that last sort of stress. The difficulties we could cope with as a one off – but it just goes on and on.
• I’m going to invent a new ‘mental illness’ today:
BROWNENVELOPOPHOBIA
ie Fear of getting a brown envelope through the door, threatening:
* Loss of income
* Debt collection
* A difficult and distressing appointment (WCA for instance)
* EVICTION
• Except fear of all those things isn’t a phobia, it’s perfectly natural. They’re reasonable things to fear if they might happen in your life. And for all too many people, they might indeed happen. Any of them, all of them.
• So what does constant living in fear do to people?
* For people with existing mental health problems, it just makes the whole problem worse.
Any possibility of getting to grips with ‘how to live my life with the pain I’m already carrying’
just disappears. And yes, it is possible to get to grips with it, but you need safety and the
right kind of support to do it.
* For those people, the constant fear of welfare so-called ‘reform’ – including the Bedroom Tax can lead to:
* increased medication ⇨ yet more symptoms that make people think you’re ‘weird’.
* Erratic behaviour ⇨ social isolation, cutting you off from the support you need
* Hospitalisation
* suicide

* And what about those of us who didn’t have mental health problems in the first place. What do you think living in constant fear does to us? It creates mental health problems. Depression, Acute anxiety, panic attacks.
• And what do the mental health services report is happening?
* Well, the idea was that we didn’t need to be shut away in hospitals any more, we could be cared for in our own
But that needs secure homes. Not the Bedroom Tax! Now they’re finding there aren’t enough hospital places – how strange!
* Increasing numbers of people with mental health problems.
* Staff are getting overloaded
* Staff are developing mental health problems, they can’t help people – after all, the problems come from the Bedroom Tax – people don’t need counselling or medication, they just need enough money to live on. Staff are trained to help people come to terms with all sorts of stuff – but what can they do about the simple fact that people have been hit by a cruel and meaningless tax that leaves them no money to live on? Leaving them to choose between starvation and eviction?

• And then, there’s the children. What did I say about living in long-term stress? Yes, it can cause mental health problems. Especially if it happens when we’re young.
* Children who today are growing up in stress
* Going to school hungry – that’s stress. It also means they’re less likely to benefit from education
* Coming home hungry
* Going with parents to whatever places where there might be free food: foodbanks, churches, drop-in services.
* Going without in the hope that Mum might actually eat something
* Worrying about parents who seem to be depressed and anxious a lot of the time
* They may even be in fear themselves if they’re old enough to know that the family might be evicted.
• This Bedroom Tax, along with all the other so-called ‘reforms’ are creating the mental health problems of the future.
* Today’s children, growing up in this horrendously stressful environment are going to be vulnerable.
* Oh, not all of them will suffer mental health problems. Some of them will come out of it as
real fighters for a better world. Some of them might even come out of it as tomorrow’s left-wing politicians!
* Some might end up with a criminal record – desperation for some way to find a better life
can lead people in strange directions
* And some will come out of it emotionally, and I would even say spiritually, damaged.
With their hopes broken. With no view of any way to live a decent life.

• And so I say this Bedroom Tax is an absolute disaster for mental health.
* It destroys what efforts towards mental health that the people who are ‘mentally ill’ might struggle towards.
* It undermines the mental health of those who did have mental health before this hit them. And valued it!
* And it savages the future chances of mental health of a whole generation of children.

And so the Bedroom Tax has to GO.
Axe the Bedroom Tax!

Christ the King

Psalm 72. 1-7 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2072.%201-7&version=CEV

1 Samuel 8. 4-20  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%208.%204-20&version=CEV

John 18. 33-37 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2018.%2033-37&version=CE

 

This is all about the difference between secular rule and the Kingdom of God. We’ll start with Samuel.

The people wanted a King
Up until this point the people had been ruled by Judges. Judges who operated the Law of God in its day-to-day application for the people. While they might be warriors, it wasn’t a necessary part of the role. They might not be recognised by other countries about as people who could represent the land, and whom treaties could be made with. The people wanted a King – someone who could stand as the acknowledged leader, who could lead them in war and negotiate for them in peace.

Foolishness of wanting a King
But Samuel warned them that this would not, in reality, be good. A King would treat the people like slaves, would take the best land for himself, would tax them to pay for his luxuries, would take their sons to fight and their daughters for service. But they wanted a King, just as the countries round about had kings. Just imagine for a moment, if the countries round about had had democracy. And the people, wanting to be like other countries, had asked for a system of electing representatives. Similar warnings might well have been given: they will form an elite, they will expect the best of everything for themselves and their families leaving little for the rest of you. They had had the Law of God, and now they wanted the rule of men, raised on a pedestal above them. Samuel was telling them that they were foolish.

The Law – equality
Up until that time, the Law regarding land had been a system of distribution and sharing. Land, given out at the end of the Exodus had been by Tribe, not to individuals. Tribes were expected to share the land among themselves so that all could be provided for. Supplementing that were laws which provided for those who for whatever reason found themselves without land – if they had sold it because they were in debt – then after 7 years they could have it back. If in desperation they had sold themselves or their children into slavery – again, after 7 years they could have their freedom back. Those who had no land and therefore no crop had the right to gather whatever was left after a harvest which was not to be too efficient – leaving plenty for the gleaners. Widows were a particular point of honour since they had no means of survival – they were to be provided for by their late husbands nearest relative. There were many other laws which ensured that all could survive and no-one fall into dire poverty. And these laws had been administered by the Judges – but a King would be more concerned about his own status and the luxury which could demonstrate it; he would be more concerned about demonstrating his power both within the land and to other countries. He might have a general willingness to ensure that no-one starved, but it was no longer going to be at the top of the agenda. The people were not content with God’s law – they wanted secular rule. And Samuel told them they were foolish.

The Psalm – for a Fair King
And then we have a Psalm. I wonder how long after they found themselves with a King this psalm was written? The notes in my Bible suggest it may have been a Coronation Song. If so, then either they’d already had experience of how unfair life under secular rule could be, or they were seriously taking Samuel’s warnings to heart! The song asks God that the King be fair in his dealings, be supportive of the poor and maintain peace for ever. ‘Peace’ of course, would have been the word, ‘Shalom’ and we should remember that that is much more than just an absence of obvious violence. It is that peace which arises when people are content with the situation they find themselves in. So it requires an absence of greed and ambition, and a sufficiency for all, of the resources required for survival and even, at a basic level, comfort. That is, it requires a society without vast inequality.
The Gospel – Jesus the true King
And so, we move on to the Gospel. Where God has indeed given us a King, a true King who operates by the Law of God and has demonstrably little interest in the ‘law of the land’. He doesn’t set out to disobey it but if he does so as a result of maintaining God’s law, well, that’s the way it goes.

God’s Law – or the Law of the Land?
Since he is capable of healing the cripple or the leper before him then he should – he does, since God’s law says to ‘love your neighbour’, care about the people around you – how could he obey God’s law if he doesn’t heal them when he can. Where there is no conflict with the law of the land, he clearly knows it and operates it, sending lepers off to the temple to make the appropriate offering for healing. But where there is conflict it is God’s concern for the sick that matters – and so he heals on the Sabbath, he is not angry when a woman touches him for healing, although her haemorrhage means that her touch, even just of his robe, means that he is now unclean, and he tells the story of the Good Samaritan which demonstrates God’s abhorrence of the need to maintain social norms rather than help the vulnerable and needy, in this case the need for ritual purity. We don’t need ritual purity today, but we can see the same concept in many modern forms.

A kingdom – out of this world!
So Pilate asks Jesus ‘are you the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus answers, ‘My Kingdom does not belong to this world’. We could understand that as him being King of a Kingdom located entirely within Heaven, and not upon earth at all. But, remember, he taught us to pray, ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ The kingdom coming is dependent on God’s will being done on earth – it is not independent of the earth that we live upon.

So if Jesus is King, here on the earth, but his kingdom is not of the earth – there where is it? Or perhaps, more appropriately, what is it? A place where God’s law rules? More accurately the state of being where God’s law rules.

It’s a difficult difference to grasp, especially considering he clearly considered the law administered by the temple as not being God’s law, and more than Roman law was.

English/Scots understanding
At this point, it may be helpful to introduce another difference – the difference between the understanding of kingship in England and Scotland (I can’t use Welsh law here, I don’t understand it well enough, but it was probably more like Scots law than English). Did you know that there was never such a thing as a ‘King of Scotland’? Scottish law was always different from English. A Scottish Laird was not the same thing as an English Lord. While a Lord was appointed by the King to have control of an area of land, and that land could be reallocated from one lord to another, a Laird was the head of his family and there was nothing the king could do about that. His power, was not in the land, but in the loyalty of the people. Similarly, the king, was King of Scots, not of Scotland. His status was as a leader of the people, not owner of the land.

Jesus’ Kingdom
Jesus has no kingdom in the world as Pilate would understand it. Pilate’s idea of kingship would relate to power, taxes, status and military might. Jesus had no interest in such things. Jesus had come to bring in a different kind of kingdom. A kingdom of hearts and minds, a kingdom of attitudes, not one of obedience or resources.

God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells us, is one where we are free in our hearts, free from social conditioning, free from the demands of the law wherever they conflict with God’s law to love him, and to love our neighbour. That doesn’t mean, as some churches have interpreted it that you can be cruel to someone because they’re not observing God’s law as an individual church may understand it. God’s law cannot be obeyed by breaking the law that tells us to love our neighbour.

The Kingdom of which Jesus is King is not one which demands of us our money, our sons to be sent to war, or our daughters into service. It does not demand of us obedience or that we support anyone’s status. It demands one thing of us only – Love.

History of the English Poor Law

I have completed a set of notes (43 pages of them!) suitable for academic use (ie every note has a page number and every included quote has a reference) of:

Sidney & Beatrice Webb’s English Poor Law History 1927.  

This book covers the activity of the state, operating through local parishes and JPs both for relief of the poor and the suppression of ‘vagrancy’ from 1350 to 1834 when the new “Poor Law Amendment Act” came into force.  The book is remarkably relevant to today.  It shows that everything which the current (2013) government is doing in the benefit system has been done before and been found to FAIL both on humanitarian, and, to this government even more importantly, financial, grounds.  Basically, ideas such as:

  • forcing those who are receiving benefits to work (workfare/sanctions)
  • sending people to employers for free (workfare)
  • subsidising employment rather than requiring that employers pay sufficient for a basic life (tax credits in the context of rising prices and falling real value of the minimum wage)
  • harassment of benefit recipients

have all been done before.  Even in the context of the Old Poor Law’s primary context of a desire to avoid trouble, riot, disturbance, begging and crime – these methods FAILED.

It has been a lot of work for me to produce these notes (for my own interest and purposes) so I am not going to freely publish them, but I AM willing to share them.  Since I have no noticeable income I would appreciate donations if anyone would like a copy.  I will try to arrange (I don’t know how) to have a Paypal button for the purpose here, but if I don’t manage that, I can receive Paypal donations through my email address elspeth.parris@btinternet.com.  Please put a comment in the message box as to whether you would wish for hard copy or a digital copy.  For hard copy, donations for the purpose must be at least £5 (to cover printing and postage) plus whatever you feel appropriate for my efforts.

The Uselessness of Guilt

 The Uselessness of Guilt – Jacob’s story

 

Jacob’s guilt offering.

Jesus talks about the difference between things which are outside of us, and things which are inside.  And it is from inside that true evil comes, not outside.  I think that this is about motivation, the reason why we do things rather than what we actually do.  I would also say that the truly good things come from inside.

Jesus was talking about the issue of washing one’s hands before eating – something we all do, and teach our children to do but we do it because not to do so has health risks, rather than to honour God.  We may also honour God with some kind of ‘Grace’ or prayer of thanks for our food – but we’ve separated that from the physical act of washing.  Would that prayer of thanks for food have value if it were just ‘from the outside’ – a mere form of words?  I think not; the prayer, indeed all prayers, need to come from inside – from our motivation to thank God, honour God, or to seek his help.

The first part of Jacob’s story here has always left a ‘sour taste’ in my mouth. When I really thought about that I realised that it feels as if he’s bribing Esau.  What he stole from him was part of his very sense of identity, his position as the elder son.  He has taken something from inside and offers stuff from outside in its place – livestock.  The father’s blessing that Esau lost by Jacob’s deception can’t be replaced by a few sheep and cattle.

Jacob could be making a ‘peace offering’ – a gesture – ‘I can’t put it right but I’m truly sorry’, or he could be offering a bribe.  What is inside – his motivation is unclear?  Is it true repentance, or is it cowardice?  Presumably by the time he’d wrestled with God all night his ‘inside’ had been put to rights, whatever his motivation might have been to start with.

Of course, Jacob could have been feeling guilty.  When I was quite young I decided to abandon the whole concept of ‘guilt’.  I decided instead to accept responsibility for the outcomes of my actions, and if bad, I must take any opportunity to put things right.  If no such opportunity occurs I can pray for them to do so.  If it’s simply beyond me – then all I can do is to place the problem in God’s hands.  He has shown me many times his astonishing ability to bring good out of evil.  I’ve seen it in my own life many times but any time I doubt it I need only look at Jesus, dying on the cross.  The greatest possible good from the greatest possible evil.

So why did I decide to abandon the whole idea of guilt?  I suspect the word relates to ‘gold’.  The ancient laws in the Celtic world defined a value for every life.  If you killed someone, you had to pay that value to their family.  But if someone close to you had been killed – how could money possibly replace them?  Money is of the outside, both the motivation of the killer and your hurt are of the inside.  Part of who you are, part of what they are.  True repentance, true redress has to come from the inside.

Many years ago, I had a boyfriend.   If he did, or said, something that hurt me, my instinct was to turn to him for comfort.  But he couldn’t comfort me.  He felt guilty about having hurt me and became cold and distant.  To acknowledge my hurt meant dealing with the fact that he had caused it, however unintentionally.  Guilt was the very thing that stopped him putting it right!

How often does it happen that when we hurt someone, it is because we feel guilty? How often do people hurt us because they feel guilty?

To me, it seems that guilt is what happens when we don’t want to acknowledge to ourselves the wrong we’ve done, or, even if our actions weren’t actually wrong, the hurt we’ve caused.  And because we don’t acknowledge it, we aren’t able to do anything to put it right.

If I were to hurt someone as I stood here preaching, I would be responsible. Of course, I would never direct a sermon at some particular person.  I’ve heard of those that do and would call it shameful.  But it would be possible to say something that makes a connection for someone, triggers off some hurt they’re already carrying.  Although, in that case, I didn’t cause the hurt in the first place, but if I triggered it off, then I would be responsible for the fact that they’re hurting today.   If I then go into feeling guilty then next time I see that person, maybe I won’t feel able to meet their eyes – making them feel worse.  Or maybe they want to talk to me about what I’ve said – and I avoid them.  That is how guilt works, it is the exact opposite to ‘taking responsibility’ and it damages relationships.  Jesus told us to ‘love one another’ – that doesn’t leave room for guilt.

So if Jacob felt guilty at having stolen Esau’s heritage, his identity as the older brother, he may have had no idea how to repair the damage to the relationship.  Only by acknowledging to himself the hurt he had done to Esau could he really try to put it right.  Only then, could he truly say ‘I’m sorry’.  Only then could he really offer the fault to God, asking him to create goodness for Esau out of his error, since it was no longer possible to put it right.  Only then, could he truly give repentance from the inside.

Unable to respond with true repentance, Jacob gives from his outside stuff – his wealth.  And God sees that, and tackles him.

End result?  Esau receives his gifts with love.  God has turned what looks like a bribe into a genuine gift of reconciliation.  And brotherhood is healed.

We ‘defile’ our hands when we get them dirty – that’s not a problem with God and for ourselves – well, we can wash them.  We defile our souls when we refuse to acknowledge the hurt we have done to others.  So what if it ‘wasn’t our fault’, or ‘it was an accident’ or ‘I didn’t have any choice’ – even worse when it was our genuine intention though, even then, we may not have realised the hurt that would be caused to another person by something we actively chose to do.

When the end result is that someone has got hurt and we have to accept responsibility for that, not tie ourselves in knots with guilt, freezing our capacity for an appropriate response to the hurt we have caused, but to accept responsibility, be prepared to accept opportunities to put right the hurt caused, and where it simply isn’t possible – well, all we can do is to acknowledge our fault to thee other person and offer the whole mess up to God.  For we can trust that he will heal – heal us, heal the other person, heal the relationship, but that acknowledgement of the part we have played in damaging the relationship has to come first.

 

Genesis 32. 9-30: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2032.%209-30&version=NRSVA

Mark 7. 1-23: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%207.%201-23&version=NRSVA

 


Let us pray:

C: Where there is hurt                     R: We place it in God’s hands

We pray for relationships:

We pray for relationships between faiths, between Christian denominations and within Christian communities.  Especially we pray for our relationships within this parish – between our various churches, and between each other.  Lord, give to all who need it the opportunity to put right any hurts and heal damaged relationships.  And when it is beyond our capacity *

 

We pray for the nations of the world.  Sometimes the situations of conflict are of complex we can’t see where they started.  To resolve the world’s conflicts is not within our power, Lord but *

 

We pray for those whom we have however inadvertently, hurt.  Give us, Lord the opportunities to put right those hurts. *

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

Moral Dilemmas

Do we sometimes do things to please or that are required of us by others leaving us feeling ashamed of ourselves?  Or of course, not do things that we believe are right to avoid giving offence?

Herod and John: moral dilemma – unreasonable request from daughter.

Herod arrested John but wasn’t inclined towards killing him.  He liked listening to him.  That suggests that he was open to the possibility of redemption.  When he allowed his daughter’s outrageous demand, it is likely that he felt ashamed of himself.  That, to me, asks the question – ‘do I do that?’  ‘How do I react if I get put under pressure to do something I know is wrong?’  Do people find themselves in a position where it’s hard to avoid?

Employment for me – how would I have felt about moral dilemma?

What would I have done, I wonder, if my employer had asked me to do something I considered unethical?  I might risk my job if I refused.  I’ve always tended to avoid jobs what that sort of issue might come up.  Working in finance, I always preferred to work in the payment of bills rather than in collecting debts.  Working in social care I preferred the probation service to Social Services – in probation the client has already been to court, had the chance to defend themselves – in SS, it’s act first and let who may appeal against your actions.    Most social workers are very caring, but the processes they’re required to carry out may not always allow space for caring.  Not for me, I’m not tough enough.

Dilemmas of pressure in any role

In fact, in any role, paid or unpaid; in employment or in relationships, where we have authority or influence over others but are subject to authority or, perhaps we simply don’t want to ‘let people down’ or appear to ‘deny our love’ for them – we may find ourselves faced with moral dilemmas quite easily.

So what does the Bible say about it?  There’s a bit of a mixed message there, we’ll start with today’s OT:

Jacob and Laban-

  • Moral dilemma 1: Jacob’s not getting paid.  Laban has a moral dilemma.  His young relative has come to stay and has naturally fallen into the work of the household just as he did at home.  Laban could just take advantage of that position but he recognises that it’s wrong.  There doesn’t seem to be any pressure on him to do otherwise (other than a bit of embarrassment) and he offers Jacob wages.
  • Moral dilemma 2: Laban has agreed Jacob to marry Rachel, but it’s 7  years on and Leah is still unmarried.  Here we have a very different situation.  It does appear that when Jacob first meets Laban’s 2 daughters they are close to marriageable age – his description of them would not be appropriate to children – he’s talking of their attractiveness as a young man would who was, at least, interested.  So when Laban agreed to the deal that Jacob could marry Rachel he was probably assuming that by the end of the 7 years, the elder girl, Leah would have already got married.  Now, 7 years later he faces shame among his community.  He’s probably got a lot of pressure from his wife, and possibly even real distress from Leah at the idea that her younger sister is going to be married leaving her on the shelf.  Laban can’t find the right of it, he can cheat Jacob or he can disappoint his wife, shame himself before his neighbours and leave his elder daughter completely unmarriageable.  People might well have assumed that there’s something wrong with her that she’s not married at her age and then her younger sister gets married first.  Of course there was a way out – he could have discussed the problem with Jacob and since polygamy seems to have been acceptable, both socially and in terms of the people’s relationship with God – he could have offered him both girls or none.  Instead he got another 7 years free labour out of Jacob while keeping him waiting for the girl he really loved. 

Abraham and Isaac:

This is the moral dilemma story that always appals me.  Abraham thinks God is telling him to sacrifice his son.  The story is usually told as a wonderful example of Abraham’s willingness to obey God.  To me it’s a story that tells of human capacity to misunderstand the intentions of a truly loving God in terms of the social context of the  time.  In Abraham’s time and the cultures around him, animal sacrifices were normal, human sacrifices less common but presumably were known.   I’d have been a lot more impressed if Abraham had said ‘No, Lord, surely I’ve misunderstood you – you can’t really mean me to kill my son’. But he didn’t – and thankfully he got the message in time to see the lamb standing there to take Isaac’s place.

It’s the same sort of misunderstanding you see today in some churches that teach hatred and cruelty towards segments of the community that they somehow assume don’t deserve God’s love: Gay people, Muslims, women who decide after long and painful deliberation to have an abortion.  It’s not an issue of whether people’s behaviour is right or wrong – on that, Jesus has made it clear, it’s not for us to judge – no, it’s simply a matter of God’s expressed love for all his people.  We are all of us capable of misunderstanding what God is telling us to do, but if it’s in contradiction of God’s love then we should be suspicious.

Peter and the unclean food:

Peter had a moral dilemma when God sent him a dream about the unclean food that he was to eat.  He stood up to it, he was suspicious,  ‘no Lord’ he said, ‘I have never eaten unclean food’.  But he managed to sort it out when God sent him into a situation where the instruction made sense.  God’s love over-ruled Peter’s social context – the unclean food was merely a symbol of the acceptance into his love of people Peter wouldn’t have considered to be potential followers of Jesus – gentiles.  Us, that is.  God’s love is the greater law.

Jobcentre staff

I have a lot of sympathy with people who work in the Jobcentres these days.  They’re under a lot of pressure to stop people’s benefits, apply ‘sanctions’ that will mean that people go without any money for weeks, or months or even years.  And the media is putting pressure on us all to believe that those people deserve it.  But the people who work for the DWP know full well that they’re being pressured to create situations that will make as many people as possible subject to these ‘sanctions’.  Many of them must be going home at the end of the day feeling sick with horror at what they’re doing to people.  And yet, to refuse to do it would risk their own jobs, their own livelihood,  their own families.  That’s a terrifying moral dilemma.  I don’t know how I’d cope with it, probably I’d become ill under the pressure and lose the job through ill-health.  Both they, and the poor claimants who are left with nowhere to turn but the foodbank, are greatly in need of our prayers.

Genesis 29. 1-20

Mark 6. 7-29

 

The Prayers

 

* Call:                      For all in trouble            Response:           Let God’s Love Rule

 

We pray for all who are stuck with moral dilemmas.

We pray for all who exercise authority over others, especially where conflicting interests make it hard to know what is right, and what is wrong.  May God’s love shine clarity into their situations and guide them to decisions which will bring us all closer to ‘heaven on earth’.*

We pray for churches and all people of every faith.  All faiths give moral guidance but it is human intelligence which interprets and understands it, threading a way through the dilemmas that all are faced with day by day.  May that intelligence be inspired by God’s spirit with love for all humanity so that, through people of faith all can come to know and experience God’s love.*

We pray for families juggling the dilemmas presented by their children’s need for freedom to develop and safety to develop within.  We pray for families which struggle with conflict and who try to see how they can best move on, what direction will give the best outcome for the children?  May God’s love resolve their conflicts.*

We pray for those employees required to act in a way which they feel is wrong, and who have to choose between right action and the threat of losing their job.  We pray for those who are bullied at work by managers or as a result of policies over which they have no control. May they know the safety and comfort of God’s love within which to resolve their difficulty.*

We pray for benefit claimants, suffering under a lot of different changes to the system so that for some people there are a number of different cuts to their income all occurring at the same time – causing dilemmas as to which bill to pay, whether to buy food or pay bills. May God’s love give them courage and strength.*

We pray for ourselves.  For whatever moral dilemmas we may have to face.  For our parish, our homes and our loved ones.  May God love be with us and inspire us to right decisions that will lead us further and deeper into his love.*

 

 

 

Sell me a house please mister!

I had to sell my house in cardiff because I couldn’t afford the mortgage – but in the circumstances, i couldn’t get a new, cheaper mortgage.  I would have about £10 left after selling the house.  I was trawling the valleys, looking for a house that i could buy cash for what i had.  I was also playing the guitar about 5 hours a day to practice for a slot at The Toucan Club.  So my reaction to the snooty attitudes of estate agents came out in music.  I have got a copy of the chords for this but they’re not on the computer – the tune is strongly reminiscent of music-hall and the verses are sung in alternate voices – working-class lady, snooty agent.  There you go, if you want the chords – let me know and i’ll scan them in.

Sell me a house please mister

I need a house to be mine

I’ve got two pennies and a ha’penny

And I’ve polished them up real fine

.

Here’s a nice and airy house

The roof’s not far away

You’ll find it in the garden,

It flew off the other day.

 

I’m afraid I can’t afford it sir,

The price is two and six

I’d buy it if I could sir

It wouldn’t be hard to fix..

.

Sell me a house please mister

I need a house to be mine

I’ve got two pennies and a ha’penny

And I’ve polished them up real fine

.

Here’s a house to suit you ma’am

Running water on demand

Its running down the kitchen walls

Convenient you’ll find

 

I’m afraid I can’t afford it sir,

The house is one and nine

I’d buy it if I could sir

And fix it up real fine.

.

Sell me a house please mister

I need a house to be mine

I’ve got two pennies and a ha’penny

And I’ve polished them up real fine

 

We might have something for you

There’s a coal-shed round the back

I’m afraid you can’t stand up in it

But it’ll do you for a shack.

.

Well if I can afford it sir

I’ll take it if I may

I’ll clean it up real nice sir

And move in right away….

 

Sell me a house please mister

I need a house to be mine

I’ve got two pennies and a ha’penny

And I’ve polished them up real fine

 

Elspeth Parris 1999

 

Noah for Children – A school assembly

What do you do when you’re thirsty – where do you get a drink from?

  • At school?   –    At home?

We’re lucky we can get cool,clean water from the tap.

But there are places in the world where houses don’t have taps.  Where do you think they get water from?

  • River – dirty
  • Sea – salty
  • Well

And supposing it’s a really dry country, with very few rivers?

In many parts of the world – even today, people have to go long distances – further than you have to walk to get to school – to get water.  Often it’s the children who have to do that, and they may have to make several trips a day carrying heavy water jars.

? Why don’t mums and dads carry the water? 

They’re usually busy, looking after the younger children, growing food in fields or looking after the animals so that everyone can eat.

So if you lived in such a dry country – what would you think if someone in your family started building a boat?

Well that’s what Noah did.  He lived in a very dry country with not much around in the way of rivers, lakes or sea.  So when he said to Mrs Noah that he was going to build a boat she thought he’d gone a bit peculiar!

Well, she said, ‘I suppose there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, but mind you get your chores done first!  But once the cows and sheep have been watered, and you’ve brought me some milk to make cheese, then I don’t see why you shouldn’t go off and do your boat-building.’

So in the evenings, when the day’s work was finished, Noah went off collecting wood to build a boat.  Of course, being a dryer country than here, there weren’t so many trees so he had to tramp about a bit.  And he got his brothers, and his teenage sons and daughters involved, helping him carry the wood home.  Luckily, in those days, the teenagers didn’t have to do homework in the evenings or they’d have got told off the next morning for not doing it!

Soon there was a great stack of wood outside Mrs Noah’s back door.

‘How big is this boat going to be?’ she asked.  ‘There’s enough wood there to build a Ferry, not just a boat.’

Anybody here ever been on a ferry – they’re really big boats that take loads of cars and buses and lorries on board, often to take them over to France or to Ireland?

‘Well’, said Noah, ‘we’ve got to take our children, and their families and all the animals in the boat too’.

Mrs Noah put her hands over her eyes, just like this [do it] and then shook her head in dismay.  ‘you’d better go kill a cow or two so I can make some dried meat  take with us!  And just you make sure there’s somewhere on  that boat where I can safely have a fire to heat my cookpot!’

So in time the boat got built.  And what do you think happened then?  In that  dry country?  Yes, it rained,and it rained and it rained.

So they all got in the boat and it floated away.  Who got in the boat with them?

All the animals from the farm, and pairs of each of the wild animals.  So, think of an animal that might have been on the boat – don’t shout it out!  Now, for just a moment, until I go –x-, would you all like to make a noise of that animal?  Ok, now:   -x- Enough J

So, what was special about Mr Noah?   I’ll tell you.  It was that he did what God told him to.  Even though it seemed ridiculous.  Even though his wife laughed at him for it.  He even got other people helping him to build a boat in dry country where it very rarely rained, because God had told him to.  Sometimes God tells us to do things that don’t make sense.  They never ever involve hurting anyone else, so that helps us to know whether it’s God telling us or our own silly imagination, but if it’s what God says to do, then it makes sense to do it, however stupid other people think it is.

Prayers

So, for our prayer, we’re going to go right back to the beginning of the story and remember those children going on long walks to carry big jars of water.  Remember them?

Lord, our Father, we thank you for your creation.  We thank you that we live in a country where there is enough water, and we ask you not to give us too much of it as we’d rather have some sunshine this summer so we can all go out to play.

And we ask you especially to make life better for people in countries where there isn’t any water in the house, or even in the village.   Let them have clean water from a tap like we have so their children don’t have to walk miles with heavy jars of water and keep them safe from illness they might get if the water they fetch home isn’t really clean.

Lord’s prayer

Blessing

Why should we fear the Lord?

When I was a child, I often heard people talking about the importance of ‘fearing the Lord’, I thought it was nonsense. Why should I fear the only person who’d ever cared about me? It didn’t make sense to me.

Then there was all the stuff about God being a ‘good parent’. That’s pretty incomprehensible too to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Unfortunately today, with all the abuse stories we hear in the press, it seems likely that that phrase is going to be meaningless to a fair number of people to whom we might want to talk about God. But, although I hadn’t experienced a ‘good parent’ I certainly had an idea of what one would be, and it wasn’t someone to be frightened of, so why should I ‘fear the Lord’?

Well, there’s quite a lot in the Bible about fearing God and when I looked at today’s readings I started thinking about it. Why, I wondered, were the people of Israel so scared when they saw Moses’ face shining when he’d just experienced a direct encounter with God?

When I was about 30 I met someone who treated me with genuine affection, asking nothing from me, treating me always with respect, unfailingly thoughtful and consideration of me. I’m not talking about respect for abilities, or respect for qualities I may or may not possess or respect that some people think they’re due because of some particular role they happen to hold. No, the respect I hadn’t experienced until then was the respect that we’re all due because we’re human, from a Christian point of view, because we are God’s creation. It’s a respect which is due to God and which God asks us to offer to one another. It was a tremendous shock to me and forced me to rethink my entire understanding of myself and who I am in relation to the world. That process was drastic, it was like someone had taken the floor away. My grasp on reality slipped, because I was trying to grasp at a reality which was different from anything I’d ever known. Trying to redefine my entire existence. Believe me, it was terrifying – but the end result was that I was able to define myself as someone who could matter, someone who could be cared about, someone who could be loved. That was a very important step in my path toward becoming a Christian, and it was a very important step in my path toward treating other people as they should be treated.

What God was doing, when he met with Moses while the people wandered in the desert, was trying to redefine reality for a whole people. That concept of treating others with respect because they are God’s creation as much as we are ourselves runs all the way through the laws that God gave to Moses. The people had hundreds of years of life as slaves, that’s not designed to enable them to understand the concept of respect.

An encounter with God is always likely to have that effect of changing people, it changed Moses who was scared of public speaking, and went on to become a great leader. The people of Israel were scared of that change. They hid ‘God’ as they thought, in the holy of holies in the temple. They were a fairly primitive people 3000 odd years ago, and I think they really thought that God was ‘in’ the ark of the covenant. It took them a long time to realise that God was everywhere. So nobody went into the holy of holies, the inner sanctuary of the temple, even the high priest only went in once a year and he took special precautions to do so! They seem to have thought it was ‘dangerous’. No wonder they talked of ‘fearing the Lord’.

What I’m suggesting is that their fear may have come from a memory of what it felt like to have their entire identity changed from under them, both individually and communally. The end result was good, they learnt that they could matter. To God, and to each other in a way that they hadn’t done before but that doesn’t make the process any less scary.

So, do we need to fear an encounter with God? The answer to that is simple – No, we don’t. God didn’t mean us to fear him, just as a good parent today doesn’t mean their children to fear them. Jesus called God ‘daddy’ – that doesn’t suggest fear! That suggests someone we can run to when we’re in need of a cuddle, or the equivalent in our lives of having grazed our knee and being in need of it being kissed better. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn in two – I can imagine God’s delight at ripping apart the barrier that the people had put between them and him. It was never meant to be there. We should all be open to an encounter with God.

In the book of Ezekial, God said, ‘I will take away your stony heart and replace with a loving heart’. That’s the sort of total change that was scary to the people – its not that they didn’t want it to happen. The nearest I can get to how we could think of it is being scared of going to the dentist – we know we’ll feel a lot better afterward but its going to hurt a lot while he drills into our teeth. Its not that God would hurt us while replacing our hearts but it can’t help but be drastically confusing to be someone who we weren’t yesterday.

So what might that encounter mean to us, today? The disciples encountered God in Jesus every day. And he often seemed to be impatient with their inability to accept the change that knowing him and experiencing God in him should have been making in them. When they were present when Jesus, Moses and Elijah all gathered in God’s presence their reaction was a bit like a nervous giggle. They knew how important it was but they wanted to build ‘shelters’ for them – was the instinct to get them out of sight? But Jesus knew that it would happen when the Holy Spirit came to them – and it did. Remember the way they changed that day – that was when they finally had their ‘encounter with God’. Their life-changing experience. Remember St Paul and his encounter with God on the road to Damascus? He was blind for a while as a result but his entire being was changed, he could no longer persecute the followers of Jesus, instead he joined them and spent the rest of his life in mission, preaching about Jesus.

When we have our encounter with God it will change us, does change us and has changed us. But it doesn’t have to be so drastic as it was for St Paul or for the people of Israel in the desert – through Jesus God can work in us gradually, changing us to become what he planned for us to be. Its only if we’re set in our ways in a way which is ’against God’ that it would be a real shock to the system, changing us overnight – and in that case, we’d be unlikely to be here in Church. But if we are open to God, open to allowing him to change us then our encounters with him can be wonderful, leaving us glowing. OK, so we’re unlikely to shine like Jesus did that day that we heard about today, but we might feel a gentle glow inside; I’ve certainly known days when I felt that after a sense of having had an encounter with God.

So we don’t need to ’fear’ God, we need to be open to him, so that he can change us, so that Jesus can work the miracle of healing all our hurts, even those that we’re so used to we forget that they are hurts. So that he can make us new people, gently, not in a frightening way. Maybe we’ll look back in a few years time and realise that we’ve done all sorts of things that served God that a few years before we’d have thought were not within our capacity. God’s capacity is infinite, we don’t need to be limited by who we think we are, what we think we’re capable of; we can let God do his wondrous work in us and we will have the capacity to be the people God wants us to be and to do the things that God wants us to do.

Self Harm – written for the US Network – Wales

ÜS NETWORK POLICY ON

SELF-HARM

Researched and written by Elspeth M Parris, DipSW, Service User
Under the direction of the
ÜS NETWORK
(All Wales User and Survivor Network)

ÜS Network working Paper No 5: 1999

Endorsed by the National Self Harm Network

SCARS

Cuts that don’t stop bleeding.
Wounds that don’t heal up.
Flesh that is open.
Skin that is dying –
Tears that never stop crying.

This is the pain we must endure.
This is the pain with no cure.
We try to stop cutting.
We try to be formal –
Sometimes we even try to be normal.

Lloyd Scully

(from ‘A Touch of the Winds’ – An anthology of work by the writers group of the 4Winds Association – Cardiff 1997)

Published by:
ÜS Network (All Wales User and Survivor Network)
Suite 3, 1 North Parade, Aberystwyth SY23 2JH
Tel: 01970 626230 Fax: 01970 626233
Users Freephone: 0800 216008
e-mail: US@usnetworkcymru.demon.co.uk

Thanks and acknowledgements
This policy could not have been written, or would at least have been vastly different without the help of a number of individuals and organisations. Of the organisations, particular mention must be made of the National Self Harm Network whose various leaflets have been particularly informative and which have been a source of many references. In terms of individuals, most important are those people who have personal experience of self-harm who have talked with me, shared with me some of their experience and given me a sense of reality checking as I wrote. In particular, members of what may in time become a self-harm support group in Newtown, Powys should be mentioned here, and in Cardiff, Ruth who checked and added to the written text and especial thanks to Lloyd who kindly gave permission for inclusion of his poem.

Contents
Introduction
1. Addressing the myths
1.1. What self-harm is and what it is not
1.2. Who self-harms
1.3. Ways of self-harming
2. What happens how
2.1. Attitudes in society
2.2. Support
2.3. In a crisis
3. Discrimination, Equal opportunities and Language
3.1. Discrimination associated with self-harm
3.2. Language
3.3. Culture
4. The need for change
4.1. Public education
4.2. Training for health, social and education workers
4.3. Support services
4.4. Crisis services
5. Resource List
5.1. Organisations
5.2. Publications

Introduction
The ÜS Network is an organisation of people, who use or have used mental health services, working for us all to have more control over our lives and the services which we need to manage our mental health.
The ÜS Network (The All Wales User and Survivor network) decided at its AGM in 1998) to have a policy on self-harm by September of 1999. This policy to be based on the view of self-harm held by the National Self-Harm Network. In order to produce this policy, I have read the materials provided by the National Self-Harm Network and taken into consideration the points of view demonstrated by a wide range of books. Most importantly, I have consulted with people who self-harm here in Wales to ensure that the policy addresses issues which are real here. I have also liaised Awetu, the black mental health befriending service in Cardiff to try to understand the issues for ethnic minorities in terms of self-harm.

Elspeth M Parris

Self-Harm and Society
Self-harm is a hidden subject in our society. There is enormous pressure on each of us to present ourselves as being all right and able to cope. This can act as an invalidation of emotional and mental distress and denies us all the right to be distressed in response to painful events.
Causes of emotional distress also tend to be hidden subjects. The existence of child abuse is now being more widely acknowledged but the long term effects are on the whole ignored. Where abuse is acknowledged as an issue for society it is often in terms of child protection and is usually specific to physical cruelty or sexual abuse. The effects of emotional abuse and invalidation of the child’s right to ownership of their own developing body and personality is hardly mentioned in the public media and receives comparatively little mention in those books which deal specifically with abuse.
Other issues which can cause deep distress are also ignored. Reading literature concerned with Post Traumatic Stress one would think that only major trauma received in some form of public service or mass event is truly distressing. The fact is that these forms of trauma are more socially acceptable. Long terms homelessness and domestic violence among many other issues can be causes of major distress and in general it is not socially acceptable to talk of these things, nor are they acknowledged as causing anything other than immediate distress.

Living with a distress issue in a society which denies distress is not easy. Our emotions are invalidated even further in most of our social contacts. In a world where expression of distress is at least unwelcome and frequently unacceptable there has to be an outlet. There is a book called ‘The Bright Red Scream’ (Marilee Strong); the title says a lot – expressing the concept that self-harm (in this case cutting) is a way of screaming in a world which doesn’t even permit us to cry. While individual self-harm is often very private and should not be treated as ‘attention seeking’ the issue of self-harm can be considered as a cry of distress calling for validation and support.
It is more convenient to society to leave us to turn our anger and pain on ourselves rather than out onto the situations and people who have caused it. It is more convenient to dismiss people who self-harm as ‘attention-seeking’ than to consider the attention which is needed and provide services which are appropriate for self-harm and the underlying problems.
In producing this policy, the ÜS Network is acknowledging the pain experienced and paying attention to the issues. In section 4, ‘The need for change,’ the attention of service providers and funders is drawn to the services which are needed. Provision of services is not, however the only change needed, but for as long as we live in a society which does not acknowledge emotional pain, such services will continue to be needed and are at present little available.

1 Addressing the myths
Probably the most powerful myth about self-harm is that it is attempted suicide by people who aren’t very good at it or who want, rather than to kill themselves, to attract attention to their distress by appearing to try to kill themselves. This is not only a demeaning attitude, it also denies the reality of the majority for whom self-harm is a survival strategy, a way of coping with staying alive. Those who self-harm and are alive are survivors.
Another myth is a concept coming from America, that self-harm is a fashion amongst the young, similar to tattooing or wearing clothes that attract adult disapproval. While elements of some subcultures have heightened public awareness of this issue, that does not make self-harm a fashion.

1.1 What is self-harm:
• a way of being in control
• a way of externalising internal pain
• a way of defining one’s own boundaries
• a way of recognising oneself
• a way of reclaiming ownership of one’s body
• a way of releasing inner tension
Self-harm can also be:
• a response to hearing voices
• a response to feelings about particular parts of the body
• a way of communicating with self, voices or others
• a form of self-punishment
• a way to cry with blood when crying with tears is blocked
Self-harm is not:
• A fad or fashion
• A failed suicide attempt
• A ‘cry for help’
• About enjoyment of pain – for many it doesn’t hurt at the time – or it may be more painful

1.2 Who self-harms
• 1 in every 130 people
(Guardian, quoted by National Self-Harm Network)
It seems likely that this statistic is lower than the reality, the fact that many self-harmers consider their self-harm to be a very private matter combined with the stigma associated with mental health problems in general and self-harm in particular means that many may not choose to declare their self-harm.
• More women than men
There are two gender issues concerned in self-harm. Firstly, there seems to be an effect in society which makes women more vulnerable to this problem. In recognition of this, services for self-harm tend to have arisen within the women’s movement and those men who self-harm find themselves excluded from both service and recognition that this is their problem too. Recently, it has been found that the gender imbalance among people attending accident and emergency departments for self-harm has reduced.
• People who’ve suffered a variety of abuses…or not
Certainly, it seems to be true that the majority of people who self-harm have suffered some form of major emotional trauma. Whether or not that experience constitutes a form of abuse is a matter for the individual. There is a myth that self-harm is always associated with sexual abuse which belittles those who have experienced other forms of trauma and denies people the right to come to their own conclusions as to the effect of their life experience on their current behaviour.
• People who hurt
It seems undeniable that people who self-harm are expressing a feeling of being distressed.

1.3 Ways of self-harming
• Cutting
• Burning
• Overdosing
• Inserting/swallowing objects (e.g. Glass, coins etc.)
• Eating distress can come within self harm
• Drugs and alcohol can be used to self-harm
• Biting and scratching
• Bashing and bruising
• Hairpulling (trichotillamania)

It is generally felt that it is the intention to hurt oneself which defines self-harm rather than the actual behaviour. Some self-harmers report difficulty in gaining recognition of the nature of the problem because the nature of the pattern of their self-harming behaviour is subtle ad hidden – as scars can’t be seen the patter of self-harm is harder to recognise. A lot of behaviours which are common and even necessary can be used as self-harming behaviour e.g. work or sex. A tendency to make oneself vulnerable to abusive relationships could be seen as a form of self-harm.

2 What happens now
What happens at the moment when people are faced with the fact that someone self-harms is that they see the myths rather than the person or the particular self-harming strategy. As a result, the individual gets little attention for the real issues. In combination with this there is the tendency within the mental health service to allocate service according to diagnosis; some self-harmers hear voices and are liable to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia while others tend to get the label of ‘personality disorder.’ The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder although not intended to be gender specific tends to be used as such and is often given to women who self-harm. These labels may have little meaning to the individual but have an effect on the service received.

2.1 Attitudes in society
People who self-harm hear a lot of negative attitudes suggesting that they are immature, attention-seeking time-wasters. If people were attention-seeking it could perhaps be useful to point out that there is very little attention given to the problem of deep-seated emotional pain which seems to underlie self-harm and perhaps some attention should be paid to this. In fact, most people try to be very private about their self-harm, sometimes to the extent of not seeking medical help, and if they wanted attention would try to ask for it in more appropriate ways, although they may feel they are not allowed to do so.
2.2 Support
At present, support is almost non-existent for people who self-harm. Some women’s groups are trying to provide support but there is a lack of funding and naturally this does not support the needs of men. Therapy groups run by a psychotherapist may exist in some areas.
Where people who self-harm have associated support needs such as mental health or housing support there is generally little understanding of self-harm and the same negative attitudes are presented which apply in society in general. People have been known to be refused mental health support or housing support unless they stop self-harming. As this is not in general a realistic choice, removal of what little support there is cannot be helpful.
Support for deep-seated emotional pain is also almost non-existent. There are sometimes support groups for abuse but these

Are generally for women and for sexual abuse specifically. For a man, or for anyone for whom some other source of pain is the most important issue there is little other than private counsellors, who in general cost money. There are schemes which provide funding for private counselling, but they are underfunded with long waiting lists and availability for a limited number of sessions. The provision of counsellors in GP surgeries is a very helpful idea for some but they are not thought to have the necessary expertise and like free service counsellors, availability is limited. Additionally, in rural areas, where communities are very close, there are concerns about confidentiality in using GP counsellors.

2.3 In a crisis
There is almost nothing in the way of crisis support. General helplines like the Samaritans are used but found patchy in terms of understanding of self-harm. There is a support line specific to self-harm available for women, (Bristol Women’s Crisis Line) but it is only available at limited times and there is nothing specific to Wales. A crisis line was made available for self-harm in South Wales for a short time (Cardiff Women in Mind) but this was for women only and ceased due to limited resources.
Casualty departments in General Hospitals are usually the first line of support and here the attitudes are often unhelpful or even abusive. Refusal of local anaesthetic has been known where it would have been offered if the injury were not self-inflicted. The usual attitude is that self-harm is a waste of casualty tie and as a result service is often brusque and without sympathy. Refusal of service is, unfortunately, commonplace.

3 Discrimination, Equal opportunities and Language
3.1 Discriminations associated with self-harm
Although many people do their best to hide their self-harm there is discrimination when it is perceived or is admitted, as is necessary if support is to be received. Much of the discrimination which occurs in services which support people with general problems such as housing, however there is discrimination in other areas most importantly in employment. The Clothier report, written in response to fears of risk to patients from nurses with mental health problems requires that nurses must have been free of problems and without support for two years before they can become eligible for employment or re-employment. This can act to deny employment to those who self-harm and it can also act to prevent those who self-harm who are working in the NHS from seeking support or getting crisis services such as are available from casualty departments. People who self-harm do not pose any particular risk to others.

3.2 Language
Since services for self-harm are so limited it would seem that any service would be a good thing. A service, however, which is not provided in the service users’ own language does not help very much at all. This is an area where the ability to talk about emotions and painful experiences is very important and even where the individual speaks excellent English they may not feel comfortable doing so in this context. It should also be noted that words and phrases do not always translate exactly and different languages represent different thinking patterns – even if a discussion is conducted in English, if this is not the self-harmer’s first language then miscomprehension may occur. In this context, the Welsh language deserves especial mention since, in Wales anyone should have the right to expect that they can speak Welsh in any context. Other languages should be provided where communities speaking them exist or on a national basis where people are scattered. Where a self-harm service is offered which linguistically excludes specific communities, liaison with organisations which serve those communities is particularly important.

3.3 Culture
What is considered normal in one culture may be considered as self-harmful in another. It should be recognised that people may be exerting their right to define their cultural identity in ways which may appear to be self-harming. On the other hand, since self-harm is defined here by motivation, a cultural acceptance of an injurious behaviour could be used as a disguise for self-harm. People should be allowed to define for themselves whether or not their behaviour is self-harm. Examples of cultural identification which may be seen as self-harm can be seen from the traveller community where body-piercing is popular and from some African cultures where facial markings can be of importance. People should not be denied the right to claim their cultural identity where it harms only themselves, nor should they be forced to accept harm to themselves in order to do so if they do not wish to. It is important to recognise that the impact of racism and homophobia can precipitate self-harm.

4 The Need for Change
4.1 Public education
There is a need to address the myths across society so that self-harm will be better understood wherever it is met, in families, in work, in schools and amongst friends. This should however, be tackled with care and sensitivity, some self-harmers report that public education campaigns on subjects painful to themselves can act as triggers. Billboard advertising is seen as the worst case as it could impact on an individual already sensitive to the issue while driving, whereas at least a television can be turned off. Organisations like the NSPCC who conduct public awareness campaigns on child abuse could be informed of this.
4.2 Training for health, social and education workers
People working in these fields (including those whose work is not defined as nurse, social worker or teacher) are likely to come into contact with people who self-harm. Current experience is that there is little understanding in these fields and where support could reasonably be expected, negative and unhelpful attitudes are often met. Training could be targeted toward individuals working in these fields to enable a better understanding, This would require funding and organisations seeking to offer training should ensure that the training used has been sourced from the experiences of those who self-harm rather than purely from those whose expertise is external to the situation. The use of survivors of self-harm by training providers would be ideal.

“According to the perspective of the National Self-harm Network the concept of harm minimisation is vital, accepting the need to self-harm as a valid method of survival until survival is possible by other means. This does not condone or encourage self-injury. It is facing the reality of maximising safety in the event of self-harm. If we are going to harm, it is safer to harm with information than with none.” Louise Pembroke, 1999
4.3 Support Services
• 24 hour crisis line – specific to self-harm and Wales
• Counselling – should be freely available to all who have need for it and from a variety of sources. Some would be happy with

Counselling more widely available from GP surgeries, some with counselling provided by mental health workers. Some people would have problems with either or both of these. There are some highly trained private counsellors available and if these were funded via the NHS this would satisfy most people’s needs. Counselling should not be limited to the short term as the emotional problems involved cannot be dealt with in a few sessions.
• Self-help groups – people who self-harm can feel isolated and crazy, feelings which can be reduced by meeting others who cope with distressing feelings or situation in similar even if not the same ways. Some people who self-harm would argue personally and politically that these should be facilitated by survivors of self-harm rather than ‘professionals’ but even if a meeting others who have or do self harm is. Although such groups should be available if they are poorly facilitated they can exacerbate existing problems. Support networks would also be helpful.
• Crisis cards and advance directives may have a role to play here, setting out how people would like to be treated when they have self- harmed.
All and any services provided should be available by choice rather than requirement. Self-harm is associated with feelings of powerlessness and removal of choice can reinforce the problem.
4.4 Crisis services
• Casualty – provision of a psychiatric liaison nurse in casualty units may be helpful for some, where provided, on the hand, some people may be put off from approaching casualty departments if a mental health assessment is necessarily part of the process. A specific self-harm service within casualty in each area would be more useful, providing the option of a mental health assessment as one of a variety of forms of support which can be freely chosen. Where there are people with personal experience of self-harm willing to assist in a self-harm unit as employees or volunteers, this should be made possible and emotional support should be provided for them if desired, the provision of advocacy in Accident and Emergency departments

Would be important, ensuring that people are able to receive an appropriate service.
• A safe place to go – Many people in the mental health service have talked about a need for some kind of refuge – a staffed, non-medical place to go and be cared for. I f available, this would be suitable for self-providing mutual support, however, some people feel that putting them together with others who self-harm might make the problem worse. Extension of a system of ‘accredited accommodation’ available in Newtown, Powys is seen as more helpful. This would provide individual support in a household with an understanding person.

5 Resources
5.1 Organisations
Organisations are included which are either Welsh, or have a presence in Wales. Organisations in England are also included where they may be of use to people in Wales and there is no Welsh equivalent.

National Self-Harm Network
Survivor-led organisation committed to campaigning for the rights and understanding of people who self-injure.
PO Box 1619, London NW1 3WW

Bristol Crisis Service for Women
Has a focus on self-injury and provides a national help-line for women in distress: Friday/Saturday 9pm to 12:30 am 0117 925119
BCSW, PO Box, Bristol BS99 1XH

Pen-friend Network – SASH – Survivors of Abuse and Self-harming
Offers support and friendship on a one to one basis in writing.
SASH, 20 Lackmore Road, Enfield, Mddx EN1 4PB

MINDlink
Organisation linked to MIND for people with personal experience of mental health problems.
MIND, 15-19 Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4BQ

Basement Project
Provides training, consultation, supervision, groups, workshops and publications for individuals and those working in community and mental health services; specialises in self-harm.
PO Box 5, Abergavenny NP7 5XW Tel: 01873 856524

Survivors Speak Out
A network of mental health system survivors, groups and allies.
34, Osnaburgh Street, London NW1 3ND
Tel: 0171 9165472

Hearing Voices Network
A network of people who hear voices
c/o Creative Support, Fourways House, 16 Tariff Street, Manchester M1 2EP

UKAN (UK Advocacy Network)
A co-ordinating network for user-led advocacy groups
Room 302, Premier House, 14 Cross St, Sheffield S1 2HG

NSPCC
Free 24hr help-line for abused children, families and survivors.
Has information on local resources.
Tel: 0800 800500

Childline
24hr help-line for children and teenagers
Tel: 0800 1111

Survivors
Helpline for male victims or survivors of sexual violence.
Mon, Tues, Weds, 7-10pm. Tel: 0171 8333737

Welsh Women’s Aid
Advice, help and information for women suffering from domestic violence.
Access to refuge in most areas.
38-42 Crwys Road, Cardiff Tel: 01222 390874

WISH – Women in Special Hospitals
Head Office, 15 Great St Thomas Apostle, London EC4V 2BB
Tel: 0171 3292415

Wales MIND
3rd Floor, Quebec House, 5-19 Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AB
Tel: 01222 395153
Information Helpline: 0845 7660163
User Development Project: 01597 825528

42nd Street – A mental health youth service (15-25yrs) specialising in self-harm and suicide.
2nd Floor, Swan Buildings, 20 Swan St, Manchester, M45 JW
Tel: 0161 8320170

To find out what’s going on in your area, or to find support to start a local group, contact US Network, Mind User Development Project, or your local mental health development project:

Cardiff and the Vale Mental Health Development Project:
G.A.V.O. (Newport)
West Glamorgan Mental Health Forum
Powys Agency for Mental Health
Unllais (N.E) (holywell)
Unllais (N.W.) (Bangor)
Dyfed Association of Voluntary Services
B.A.V.O (Bridgend)
InterLink (Pontypridd)

5.2 Publications
There is a wide range of books available on mental health issues in general, including those which are specific to depression, hearing voices, experience of abuse, and experience of the mental health services, many of which may be relevant to self-harm. There is not, however, space to include all of these here; libraries, good book shops, local mental health and women’s projects, the Mind publications list and the National Self-Harm Network’s resource list can all be used as sources of information on such books. The books included here are, in general, specific to self-harm.

Newsletters

SHOUT
(Self-harm overcome by understanding and tolerance)
Newsletter for women who self-harm

c/o PO Box 654 Bristol BS99 1XH

WAVES
Women making waves about abuse
Newsletter for women who have experienced abuse
c/o 82 Colston St Briston BS1 5BB

Books listed below marked A/M may be available from other sources including, in many, direct from the publisher but are definitely available:
A Over the internet via Amazon.co.uk
M via Mind Mail Order Service. 15-19 Broadway. Stratford, London E15 4BQ The address for Good Practices in Mental Health is 380-384 Harrow Rd, London W9

BOOKS

Women and Self-harm Gerrilyn Smith et al. Women’s Press 1998AM
Report of a Review by HM inspector of Prisons…Self Harm in Prison…Self-Harm Stephen Tumin The Stationary OfficeA
Self Harm Louise Pembroke Survivors Speak Out 1994A
Self-Harm Help Book Lois Arnold The Basement Project 1998A
Suicide & Deliberate Self-Harm Alison Faulkner Mental Health Foundation 1997A
Suicide & Deliberate Self-Harm N.E.J. Wells Office of Health and Economics 1981A
A Bright Red Scream: Self Mutilation and the Language of Pain Marilee Strong Penguin, 1991A
The Language of Injury Babiker and Arnold BPS Books, 1997M
Who’s hurting Who? Young People, Self Harm and Suicide Helen Spandler 42nd Street, 1996M
Cry of Pain – understanding suicide and self-harm Mark Williams Penguin 1997M
Cutting – Understanding & over-coming self-mutilation Steven Levenkron WW Norton, 1998M
National Self-Harm Network Information pack NSHN Available from NSHNM
The Hurt Yourself Less Workbook NSHN Available from NSHNM
Viscious Circles An exploration of women and self harm in society Diane Harrison Good Practices in Mental Health
Cutting the Risk – self-harm, self care and risk reduction NSHN Available from NSHN