It is a beautiful thing to hear people open up about their dreams and hopes. Some of these hopes and dreams have remained buried for years and then something happens- in the case of last week, with people facing up to retirement- and these dreams begin to spill out.
You might not always hear them: ‘tread carefully, for you tread on my dreams’ is very true: most will not tell you their dreams, unless they trust you and you allow the space for them to tumble out.
And then they do- and when they do: and I get to hear more than my fair share, you step back and are awed at so much going on in seemingly ‘average’ lives.
When it happens, I can always hear this song in my head.
Not that kind…
A number of people- in fact the vast majority- who come to this course that I help at come away saying things like it being life-changing, it has opened their eyes etc.
I wondered why- what happens is not rocket science: you take people out of their context, give them some input that is not especially new, give them some space, invite them to be honest and allow them to reflect.
I realised a couple of things:-
1: This is a ‘secular’ (I don’t like that word) equivalent of an ancient practice: ‘retreat’- believers have been doing this for years.
2: As a minister, I have been trained for years to reflect, open up and contemplate for years. It feels natural and I take it for granted. For most people that is not natural and when it connects it is potentially earth shattering.
3: I’m really grateful for 2 & always will be…
I was co leading this course last week.
The other leader and I worked it in this way: one would lead a session, whilst the other used the space to sit in, listen, work out what needed to be adapted, how people were responding, prepare the next bit etc.
I was doing this, but happened to check the county cricket scores (in my defence it was the last but one day of a scintillating season) just at the moment my co leader began to lead a short session of mindfulness with the word ‘Be in the room, be here now in this moment’.
And I wasn’t.
I was doing the work required (ok, skip the cricket bit) without engaging in the work. It was a bit like all those talks I went to at big church gatherings about prayer, which just ended up as talks about prayer or all those programmes on tv about baking watched by people sitting on sofas,…not baking..
Funny thing is, I do that a lot.
Memo to self: do it less (unless there is a compelling cricket game on).
Image from http://www.museumofbadart.org/collection/recent.php
I had an all day meeting a few days ago and it was held in a building owned by a Christian community.
There were several faded items attached to the wall which were ‘bad art’. OK: I am not an artist, or an expert on art, but they didn’t look like a major gallery owner was going to want them very soon.
I was mentally composing some sarky tweets, when I stopped…
Thank God (I mean that phrase) for bad art- particularly that which is prompted by facing up to life in all of its pain, despair and glory. Thank God for those who take risks and spew this out through paint, craft, clay or any medium. Thank God for the courageous who pour their souls out in this way, encouraging others to do the same.
And sorry from one of the buttoned up repressed who don’t.
The season ended yesterday with a friendly match.
The day before we had our last league match, which we won. For the first time the experiment with me opening the batting worked (I am one of nature’s tailenders and that is on a good day). 6 may not sound good, but for me it was a score. I helped put on 37, wound the best bowlers up (the best ones come on at the start), used their overs up so the real players could feast on the lesser ones and quietened down the on field chatter (a sign that the psychological battle is being won).
I was talking with our captain between deliveries (he was umpiring) saying how much I- a below average player had enjoyed the season, but really wan’t that good.
He said something like:
‘You have improved and it is hard to get you out-you have a sound technique. Some more practice and we can use you in this spot’.
From that moment on, I believed that I could do it. Maybe he is right and maybe he isn’t, but it struck me that it is not rocket science, management/leading people. You are honest, affirm people and then give them a goal that might be achievable.
Perhaps I am wrong- but I have worked in so many places where the subtle (and sometimes unsubtle) message is ‘You are no good- I could do better. To even get a tiny improvement, you need to be threatened/told off/belittled/undermined…and then need to overwork, because really you will never be good enough.
If I play next season, maybe the holy grail of double figures is not far away…
I guess this is what worship today is meant to do- meant to wake us up to the honesty of where we are (I’ve had my fill of ‘Christotainment’ worship events, whether it bea sequence of 12 successive choruses rock concert or a ‘high’ worship that is pursued just for spectacle), encourage us, but keep us hopeful and alert to a ‘whisper’…
‘The world is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first,
nature is incomprehensible at first.
Be not discouraged, keep on,
there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine beings
more beautiful than words can tell’.
In the last few posts I avoided using the phrases: ‘I have grown out of’ or ‘I have moved beyond.’
I have heard others use those phrases and they seem incredibly patronising: like you have some special ‘mature’ knowledge and others don’t. You don’t- you may be misguided…your journey/my journey may be a dead end.
Respect those who are part of the tribe you have left: they are not ‘limited’ or somehow blinkered- just different; their insights can throw valuable light on your own journey. Borrow freely from them: there is much of worth in the place you came from and much you will keep.
And don’t set out on a journey so insular that you don’t bless others and include them.
And resist joining a new tribe: or at least any tribe that has ‘in/out’ language. Rather be a part of those who honour the ‘Excuse me I have a question’ point of view above all other. Unhealthy tribes tend not to like people saying that.
And be free…and trust in the God who you think who has led you here…for that is what it is all about really.
I have had this song before; I think last year.
I could play it every year around this time: today is the last day of the first class cricket season. Tomorrow and Sunday- if the weather holds- will be my last outings this season for Hutton Rudby cricket club.
Even though this has been in effect my first season, who knows? I am 50 & any day there will be younger and better cricketers. I am also carrying injuries and those injuries take longer to heal (this week I have laid off running to allow my leg strain to ease). Plus, my children are getting much better than me and will improve- I merely face a gentle decline.
This song is about cricket, but not really: it is about mortality: John Peel wanted it playing on the radio when he died. Listen, swallow hard and rage against the dying of the light.
At the moment. where things stand there is a sense of glorious freedom.
I do not know where or what I will become, although I fully intend to stay a ‘Methodist Minister in Full Connexion’ (that means that you are not ‘defrocked’...)….but I can’t see a return to ‘normal’ ministry; despite the income drop, the sense of freedom is so intense and exhilarating.
I feel blessed: outside of the practical stuff, there is an inner freedom as well; of being unconstrained; of the future being open, of anything (subject to the usual constraints and ageing) being possible. Few of us get that ‘teenage’ sense in middle age.
And that feels good: leaving your tribe may be hard, but outside you may find the freedom that you craved that first led you inside. You don’t need to exist with a label.
I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 last week. It was presented by David Attenborough and was all about evolution/evolutionary theories and how they have changed/developed over the years.
One part in particular really intrigued me (and scientific subjects never really ‘held’ me: I have 3 arts degrees, but only one science O level, so some of this information may be confused); the increasing acceptance that the early humans spent a large part of their time in the water in order to catch food. Attenborough cited evidence that was known for many years, such as:-
- Humans being the only primate with a layer of fat attached to their skin; akin to blubber.
- Most early humans that have been found have a bone condition in the ears like ‘surfer’s ear’ (which around 80% of frequent surfers have). This is a bone development caused by spending large amounts of time in water.
- The vast majority of human settlements are within 60 miles of large areas of water (as opposed to just rivers, streams etc)
There was much else in this programme that I missed, but one of the questions posed was around ways of seeing/r paradigms: how did the scientific community largely ignore this or ridicule those who tried to advance this hypothesis? It was obvious in hindsight; it had become a dominant way of seeing to the extent that other views could not be ‘seen’.
I suppose that is why you leave a tribe; whilst it offers (and will continue to offer) wise insights, it is also blinded by a particular way/ways of seeing select issues (and a majority who will label others who see differently as somehow being outside accepted norms). When you begin to see differently, it is hard to acknowledge it: the pressure is to remain part of that group and ignore what you are experiencing- a label helps in an uncertain world. You might even join in the attacks on those outside the group as it helps to fight against your own doubts.
But then the strain is too much, and you realise- not that you are better than anyone else- that the label itself is a strain and you want to breathe fresh air….. and be open, once again, to the excitement that started you on this journey in the first place…