This is my personal journey from my early years. After the first chapter, most of this story starts with living as a long term unemployed single parent with two children with different fathers. I have never been married. I was definitely on the bottom rung of society. I lived in the highest unemployed town in the UK with the demise of its iron, steel, chemical and shipbuilding industries, thus experiencing years of poverty and ostracization. This is the story of how, supported by a strong Christian faith, I deeply analyzed and navigated my way through it all to an absolutely fulfilling life.
In the light of what’s happening in this chaotic world today, I feel moved to tell my story with all its different facets. My main hope is that the reader will see the human face of the marginalized, and hopefully gain a more compassionate understanding of all those who live on the margins of society. I hope the reader finds clues on how to make connections with people different to them, or to change the top down competitive economic system so all people are justly valued whether they were in paid work or out of paid work.
I invite the reader to pick any chapter and, if that particular issue resonates with you, to organize a Zoom group together with mutually interested people in a New Republic of the Heart. This could be a way to support each other in any future work on that issue that you may eventually take up in your own local community. Or let it inform the work you are already doing.
I acknowledge that every single one of us has our own unique experience from our own unique perspective waiting to be heard and learned from. This is simply my experience. I’d love to maybe one day hear and learn from yours.
CHAPTER 1 ~ EARLY EXPERIENCE
I was born in 1946 in a working class family from the north east of England, and brought up in a patriarchal household. Being the only female sibling among three brothers, a slow realization taught me that I was at the bottom of the pecking order. Dad’s word was law and then came my brothers in order of age. Mam was never ‘allowed’ to go out to ‘paid’ work. Her job was the home and family whose sole purpose in life was to serve us.
William Beveridge, (significantly a man) a British economist and Liberal politician, was a progressive and social reformer and the architect of the post war welfare state. He advocated for adult women to normally be economically dependent on their husbands. His ‘norms’ legitimised the status quo. They revealed the power relations in society and were a post war basis for poverty and oppression for women.
Throughout childhood, the patriarchal ‘high’ Church of England compounded my situation. Men made the decisions and women made the tea. There was always a man in the pulpit. The disciples were men. God was a man? Jesus was a man. The early Christian Father’s were men. The stories in my head around biblical women were that of the temptresses Eve or Salome, or the woman being stoned for adultery. The positive stories of women in the Bible were subtly hidden, and only revealed to me 40 years later at a theological college. I could see myself being subtly groomed for ‘serving’. This didn’t always come without any contention from me. I didn’t mind serving now and again, but why always me and never my brothers?
“The family becomes the nucleus of the patriarchal relations in society. To that extent parenting language for God reinforces patriarchal power rather than liberating us from it.”
R, Radford Ruether. 1983: p.70.
Throughout my childhood I was in constant conflict with the interjections, “You have to do it because you’re a girl,” or “You can’t do it because you’re a girl.” With such acute low self-esteem compounded by this subordination, being pure and clean to emanate the Virgin Mary solely for a potential future husband was my only pathway to heaven. If I wasn’t, it would be a pathway to hell.
This feeling of subordination led me in 1972 to leave my home and family at the age of 26 to emigrate alone by ship to Australia on a government £10 emigration passage.
Just before the Ship departed the quayside leaving Southampton and trying to get a glimpse of Mam waving goodbye above the crowds, I took myself onto the empty upper boat deck and found myself utterly alone. I suddenly realised that I was leaving the whole of my past behind and my future was completely unknown. This was the first time in my life when I was fully aware of experiencing the ‘Present Moment.’ I resolved to continue on this present moment journey armed with a pocket size New Testament Bible with the question, “What would Jesus do?”
Three years later, I returned home by ship in the other direction for a holiday. Then, having travelled around the world by ship, I returned to Australia, going overland on a Greyhound bus as far as Nepal then on completely alone to Australia. I slept in a tent for most of the way without a sleeping bag. (I had forgotten it in England and couldn’t afford a new one.) I travelled on an absolute shoe string. I had many sometimes scary adventures, but all with the support of my constant companion, my pocket sized New Testament Bible.
All this showed them what a girl could really do!
Before leaving the UK in 1972, and in the three months before starting my nine years of travelling, I was raped. This was the greatest, but by no means the final humiliation of male dominant power over me. The patriarchal system had already, since childhood, very subtly taken over my mind and now it blatantly took everything else. I felt I was nothing. I was a clod of dirty clay, which was more or less what some projections from the pulpit told me in the first place.
Martin Luther said, “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him”. I would argue ‘her’ too.
Nine years after the rape, I returned home from my many travelling adventures, but this time pregnant by my Australian boyfriend. After a three year sadly negative relationship, I resolved to return home alone to have my baby in England. In 1981 I became a single parent living in a society advocated by William Beveridge.
Three years after the birth of my first child, at the age of 38, I became pregnant again by a man I thought I loved. He told me he’d had the ‘op’ and could never have children. However, he got somebody else pregnant at the same time as me. I was left alone now with two children with both fathers never making any attempt ever to contact their children or pay toward their upkeep. I gave all the information I had to both my children if either of them wanted to contact their father, however, so far they have shown no interest.
Mixed with interjections from my childhood, my one concern was God. God couldn’t possibly love me now. I could be forgiven once, but couldn’t possibly be forgiven a second time. I knew that absolutely empty feeling of utter desolation. I truly felt I was completely without God. However, three weeks after I found out I was pregnant it was my turn to read in church. By this time the whole congregation knew about me. I didn’t at all feel worthy to go to church or even face their potentially judgemental glances, but even if God didn’t want me, I needed God. I didn’t look at, much less practice, the Bible passage I was to read beforehand. When I finally read it in church, a major miracle happened. It was Romans 8: 31-end:
“If God is for us…who is against us?”… It continued….”we are treated like sheep to be slaughtered”…..and finished…”For I am convinced that neither death… nor life… nor angels… nor rulers… nor things present… nor things to come…nor powers…nor height…nor depth…nor anything else in all creation… will EVER be able to separate ANY of us from the LOVE of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I broke down in tears of joy.
From that moment I knew I was stood beside and loved, warts and all. And just as importantly, so was every other sentient being. So then, to give back which I had so generously received, my one pathway forward was LOVE.
But, what was LOVE? 1 Corinthians (13: 4-end) from the Bible told me:
Love is patient
Love is kind;
Love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
It is not irritable or resentful;
Love keeps no record of wrongs
but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Faith Hope and Love Abide these three and the greatest of these is LOVE.
This became the narrow path where I often fell down, but tried to walk for the rest of my life.
Meanwhile nine months later I was contemplating on a cedar tree outside my kitchen window and was inspired to write the following poem:
God created me so perfectly,
God fashioned me, just so.
A Grand, Majestic, living tree
To grace the earth below.
God created me so perfectly
And yet, with one accord,
Men cut me down and made a cross
To hold my dying Lord.
I held Him there. I felt His pain.
I was His destiny.
And when they drove the nails in Him
They drove them too, in me.
I was the one He prayed to miss.
The one He had to face.
And man had shapened me to this,
A cross in deep disgrace.
I didn’t want Him hanging there.
I wanted Him to live.
But me, an instrument of death
Was all I was to give.
(Holy Island of Lindisfame 2008)
And yet I know….and know I should,
Your LOVE was holding Him.
I know that through my shameful wood
He took away all sin.
Why me!? Why me!? I’m bound to cry.
For ever I will wish
to know, because I wonder why
You fashioned me for this.
Then, through Your Son’s forgiving word
Great understanding bled.
A still small voice within me, heard,
And this is what YOU said.
“I created you so perfectly.
I fashioned you,… just so…
A grand, majestic, LIVING tree,
To grace My earth below”
Linda Granville (1984)
However, even though I knew I was completely loved and I also had two wonderful children and we love each other to bits, it was obvious society and maybe even some of my family still had their doubts.
My home town of Middlesbrough once boasted two ICI Chemical plants, and an Iron and Steel industry, and a Shipbuilding industry. They were all disappearing before my eyes with tens of thousands of people out of work. Some housing estates had 80% unemployment. We earned the grand title of the highest unemployed town in the UK. I was living at the beginning of an 18 year, unemployed single parent poverty trap.
Unpaid home-work is oppressively undervalued. This was proven by the first act of the newly installed labour government when they cut single parent benefits. Today, help with childcare (working tax credit) is only linked to (paid) work. Single parents, dependent on benefit and who for one reason or another have to stay at home to look after their children, are among the poorest in society. They’re labelled ‘dole scroungers’. Gender reinforces poverty.
Years ago, I took a part time cleaners job. I wasn’t allowed to earn more than £15 per week. One woman colleague was only earning £1 per hour because she desperately needed the job, and there were loads of unemployed people to take her place in Teesside. Also, if she earned more than £1 per hour, it would affect her measly, but regular benefits. When the minimum wage came in, it took me over the £15 a week I was allowed to earn without losing benefits. I asked my employer if he could reduce my hours from six to five. He refused, so to keep my job, I had to take home less than the minimum wage. The alternative was for me to break the law. There seemed no comeback to the fact that he was breaking it by paying me less than the minimum wage.
Many women were exploited in this way. We couldn’t take another part time job, because the only place in the area without having to pay extortionate bus fares out of this very isolated housing estate was the local supermarket. A part time job there meant that, although it was part time, employees had to be available for work morning, afternoon or evening, whenever they were ordered to come. This couldn’t guarantee being home for children. It also stopped any woman from getting out of the poverty trap if they wanted to take another part time job at the same time, or regular education courses.
With the cleaners job, two people were sacked and I was given their work cleaning urine and vomit in men’s toilets, without any change in pay. Sadly, I had to leave my children with my mother one Christmas night so I could go to work on Boxing day. To spend Christmas night alone without your kids is a miserable experience for any parent. When I finally trudged a mile to work on Boxing day morning in deep snow, I was the only person to turn up. The rest of the staff, including the manager, had a hangover from the Christmas staff party the night before. This was a party that I was not even asked to attend, but only to clean up after. I was a ‘non person’ yet again!
At the same time, and over the years apart from doing a hard job bringing up my two children, I voluntarily ran a teenage drop in centre, helped people with learning difficulties, and had a weekly column in a local newspaper to write about good community initiatives around Teesside. I also taught English to Asian women, a few times with only £1 in my pocket and wondering if I should feed my children or pay for bus fares to teach English alongside somebody else with the same TESOL qualification but who was earning £28 per hour. Later I worked with the homeless, and counselled rape victims and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. All this voluntary work had flexible hours which enabled me to care for my children. Even though I was fully trained in all these areas of work, nobody was able to pay me or offer me enough paid hours to get out of the poverty trap. Yet I allowed myself to be grossly exploited for the sake of £15 per week. That was all the government allowed me to earn without losing benefits.
Where was the justice when for a few years my children and I had to depend on charity food parcels to survive over Christmas?
This ‘non person’ oppressive experience was the catalyst to encourage me to find ways to value all people in or out of paid work. Luckily, or maybe it was providence, I was introduced to a very ‘person centred’ voluntary ecumenical church organisation called Respond!. Respond! was set up in 1986 as a ‘Faith in the City’ response to the demise of the chemical, shipbuilding, and iron and steel industries in Teesside. It looked for more holistic ways of valuing all people in or out of paid work. The aim of Respond! was to facilitate the discovery of practical new responses to the social and economic crisis that embraced the spiritual, physical and wealth creating potentials of all people.
The people of Respond! stood beside me, and listened and accepted me without judgement. They trusted my opinions and enabled me to think. This organization had four overview groups: European and Economic, Spirituality, Grassroots, and Communication. I joined all four of them. Ten years later I became its voluntary chairperson for a year before I left to go to college.
With Respond!, together with National Church Action on Poverty, I listened to other unemployed people experiencing the brunt end of the trickle down system. Both locally, nationally and in meetings with the European Contact Group in Bonn, Kairos Europe in Strasbourg and 4th World ADT in Brussels, I listened to the poor European wide. We all were the experts on economic systems that didn’t work. Respond! resolved to believe that jobs should be for people and not people for jobs.