A relatively straight forward couple of blogs coming your way. 13 things that have been important to me in ’13.
Embrace the Middle East
Earlier this year I read a handful of Brian McLaren books and determined that I had a very lackadaisical attitude to what he calls “the other” i.e. people not like me. There’s no way I can do his theology justice in this but have a look at this short book he wrote for a flavour.
I am making an effort to take opportunities to cross boundaries I hadn’t even realised I lived within so sought an opportunity to get involved with Embrace the Middle East. You may know them by their former name Biblelands, but the charity exists to help tackle injustice and poverty in the Middle East, broadly focusing on education, healthcare and community development in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt. Right now they are helping their projects cope with the impact of the civil war in Syria. I’ve been volunteering helping them sort photos of their projects and work into a new database and I’ve been moved to tears by the images many times. There are photos of sickly infants in baby hospitals, blind children in special schools and adults being set off on their own businesses through vocational training and micro-loan programmes. Please have a look at what they do. I’m also chuffed to say that Embrace asked me to take some photos for their Christmas catalogue, a proper important photo assignment which I thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t link to them all but here is a gift I know my late dad would have enjoyed!
Let Toys be Toys
This often misrepresented campaign, manned by volunteers, have through savvy use of social media, managed to make giants of retail think twice about how sexism has crept into our children’s lives. Let Toys Be Toys goal is to ensure there are no limitations placed on our kids and their imaginations and dreams by money hungry, sexist and manipulative marketing and design of toys. Simple steps with brilliant results.
This year Girl Guiding UK changed our promise for the 12th time and received a hoofing in the press and from some of its own members. I loved the debate that surrounded the changes, wrote a couple of blogs about it and got to have some brilliant conversations with my Brownies and other leaders.
I love being part of an organisation that isn’t afraid of change and development. I think Guiding looks at what is going on the world and wants to be part of it and wants to shape it. The work they’ve done this year on girl’s attitudes and equality for girls is brilliant. Their Care Versus Control report, investigating how girls and young women feel about relationships, what behaviours they tolerate is heartbreaking for example one in ten girls say it is appropriate for a partner to tell you who you can and can’t spend time with.
Girls feel that they experience high levels of sexism in their everyday lives – at school, online and in the media – and that this has a negative impact on girls’ confidence, well being and, too often, their aspirations. Girls recognise than these inequalities are likely to have an impact on their future choices and curtail their choices
However, the findings also show that girls themselves are resilient and positive, find a lot of happiness in their lives ad are full of hope for a rewarding, equal future. The research paints a picture of a highly ambitious generation of girls and young women who can’t wait to take up their positions in the world. 
I joined the movement almost 30 years ago and I can categorically state it, rather than any school, church or other club, has nurtured me. This year I felt reinvigorated about the opportunities Guiding gives me to be part of girl’s lives and their development. 2014 brings the 100 year birthday of Brownies and we have loads of fun stuff planned!
No, it “isn’t the same as a real book” but actually it is. The words are still there and I can see them! Joking aside, I’ve read more books this year since getting my Kindle last Christmas, than in the three before and that’s no coincidence. I still buy real books but I love my Kindle. Also, being a Fire I can do all sorts (web, email, social media, games, photography, apps) on it at a fraction of the cost of an iPad or laptop. It is a fun, fab piece of kit I am very grateful to have. Highly recommended.
A lot of conversations I used to have started with “How are you, Heather? Busy I bet?” When people you don’t know all that well know you for being busy and seem to hold that in some sort of reverence, something needs to change. Of course, like most folk, I cycle through periods of quieter times and insane business but I repeatedly burned out and never learned a lesson. The Time Wisdom Not Busy challenge I undertook at Lent changed a lot of that.
During Lent I stopped using the word busy to describe myself, took 10 minutes out every day to do nothing, and contemplated the impact of my behaviour on others. I was idolising business and in turn my gifts and talents and was thinking myself indispensable. I was also hiding the true nature of resource problems and getting in the way of others exploring their own callings and interests by jumping in and picking up tasks.
The Not Busy project has encouraged me to tackle that and most importantly helped me think about guilt associated with saying no.
And if, like me, you think there is an idolisation of church work that needs tackling, this project offers some spiritual perspective.
The developers the project know folk who need help in this area are busy so the book only takes an hour to read. If you think you don’t have an hour to read the book, you probably really need to read it!
This is actually a tricky one with as I get frustrated with Twitter as much as I love it but I have had such a giggle using it this year, made some proper friends and been introduced to a lot of the other things on this 13 things list.
I made a pledge back in April in a post called My Online Wills and Will Nots to actively seek out folk with opposing views to mine so I could learn from them. Twitter is an excellent place to be exposed to views of all sorts. On Facebook I stick to friending folk who are truly offline friends. On Twitter, I’ll try to follow pretty much anyone even if for a while. It is incredibly difficult sometimes, heartbreaking and frightening but I I’d rather see what’s really going on between people than live in my lovely bubble.
I get out of Twitter what I put in and because it is so fast paced a lot of time can be easily sucked away but it can be wonderful if used wisely, bearing in mind its limitations and recognising it for the tool it is.
Oh and I will never forget the moment this summer when I met two chaps from my favourite band @JarsofClay and when they asked my name then declared: you’re on twitter! Boom.
My sister introduced me to this gloriously simple photo swap app, Rando. Take a picture of what is in front of you, it gets delivered to another user in the world and you get one back with a map of where it was taken.
No pretension, just a little window into the everyday lives of everyday people. My favourites come from South Korea and remote parts of Russia.
13 things from 13: Part 2 coming soon
 From Girls’ Attitude Survey 2013 Executive Summary.