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I have my annual birthday today. There was a time when I would work as normal; celebrations like this were fitted around ‘normal’ life. However a few years ago, I got into the habit of taking a day off and doing something I liked- a long run, a film I like, a mooch around record shops etc. Juggling home, work, teenagers is sometimes demanding so I look forward to this one day free of constraints and obligations.

Latterly I have planned a long solo walk; a day when the slow rhythm of footsteps, silence and wildness begins to recalibrate my soul, sense of self and God. Eventually, my fevered thoughts and frustrations go and I am aware of nothing other than ‘being’ in the walk. I find it utterly lovely and the stillness can remain for days. There will be a much shorter walk with friends (and a big breakfast) on Saturday: I can’t survive without long term friends, but neither can I survive without periods alone with not much going on.

Who knows: maybe this day will give me back something of my writing mojo that is currently almost missing….

4 years on

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I’m preaching this morning; something that I now do only sporadically. More particularly I’m leading worship at a service that I helped start nearly 13 years ago in a community centre. Today is the last one; I’m surprised that it gave life for so long, but excited that I go to a church where they try new things; more particularly with a new demographic that now have contact with the church.

It struck me that this is almost 4 years to the day since I had a ‘farewell’ service in the same church and it got me reflecting about what has changed and the difficulty of that change (in effect, becoming homeless, moving house, financial pressures, but bigger than that: there are no maps).

I’ve been reading Mary Oliver poetry recently and this one helped:-

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Friday Grime

When your oldest son is 17, they have gone from being a child; in many respects, they are a man. Gone are the easy snaps on facebook and the sense that this person is ‘known’; they are a mystery and their reference points are outside the family. Growth takes a bit of getting used to.

But there are moments: moments when you connect.

My son likes ‘Grime’; I have no idea why- maybe it is the equivalent of rebellion, maybe is speaks some of his language and reinforces his developing world view. For one precious hour this week, when we were in the car, he began to play the songs that meant something to him and why they did.

Grime is a sweary genre, but this one stuck out. I like it- I see in the social commentary something of the world view I had at the same age, although the style is very different.

That collection of moments was very special…made even more so when he began to play what he called ‘old school One Direction’ (to me, they are recent) and we sang together at the tops of our voices, the connection real, but unspoken.

Time and church

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‘You need to be more involved in your local church’

I remember preaching something like that once, although probably not as overtly psychologically manipulative as that. Over time, I became less overt: I was aware of people who were on the edges of church life around my age who just had too much on; giving them a guilt trip about what they weren’t doing did not seem like a good thing to do.

Maybe that made me a bad minister, I don’t know. I do know that this is a bugbear of ministers who have pastoral charge over a church; we have empty roles to fill and we can’t do them/we already feel overloaded and why won’t people come forward? The trouble is that-although this is true- when it comes across as needy and as guilt-ridden as that, it isn’t very appealing. Besides which; doesn’t ‘calling’ mean more than doing jobs in your local church?

In any case, I never quite squared the circle with that one; I was convinced that the strident church-centric approach of some of my colleagues in the wider church was not the correct one, however, I’m not sure if I found the ‘right’ approach. I was grateful for the number of people who offered their gifts and sometimes let things ‘slip’ so that people could exercise their unique gifts in a way that ‘worked’

I guess I’m writing this as nearly 4 years into my current way of being outside of full-time church ministry, I do little in a local church, feel little inclination to do so and sometimes I have mild twinges of guilt about that.

Yet, as I think about it a little more, as to helping out in a local church; I have no model or personal experience of 2 adults in their early 50s working full time and two teenagers with ‘full’ lives. My previous experience of helping out in a local church before I was a full-time minister was as part of a couple in their mid/late 20s in full-time work but with no kids, more energy and ‘time rich'(and much less involved in the local community than I am now.)

What’s the answer? Some thoughts:-

  • I don’t think there is an answer at the moment; just ‘go with the flow’ is about all that I can say- help out where you can, but recognise that to commit to anything is difficult right now.
  • A sense of repentance where I’ve put heavy guilt in the past on people in the same situation.
  • The future is open and unknown; one thing that these last few years have taught me is that once you’ve set out on a journey, the journey changes you-you don’t return in the same form, or at all…

To be continued…

Lower: some unsettling music for Friday.

Sometimes uneasy listening is the best kind of listening.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m as much in love with an obvious tune as the next person, but a song, an album that you have to work at is often more rewarding.

I’ve liked Low ever since a friend introduced them to me over 20 years ago. I liked their loud/quiet, the songs that seemed to defy categorisation (Slow core‘ anyone? I thought not...) and the moments of real and fragile beauty made all the more apparent by what surrounded them.

Even though I know some of their songs very well (‘Death of a salesman’, which I think is one of the most profound songs ever written and one of the few that I can play and sing without chord charts) I never quite ‘know’ them; they are impossible to define.

I’ve seen them play half a dozen times in both large and small venues and always been moved by the experience: it has often seemed more like a secret cult at worship than a mere gig; sometimes you can hear the cliched pin drop. Give me that many times more than the facebook photos of ‘Look, here we are paying stupid money to sit 200 meters back from someone really well known whilst we drink overpriced beer’.

The genesis of their new album has been covered elsewhere (Google ‘Double Negative’ and read the reviews), certainly better than I ever could. Is it double their usual slow and introspective mix, or do two negatives make a positive? I think a bit of both.

It took me several listens to get into before its charms began to weave their way into my soul. Like life, it is full of ‘uglybeautiful’ moments; a song has moments that jar, soothe and then jar again. This means that when the beauty comes, it is all the more startling. Even after 2 weeks of living with it, I am still playing it and finding new things to appreciate and move. It is not the kind of album to listen to in bits or as background. I could go on, but I’ll close with the last song: I like the way that this homemade video uses feet to show that the journey goes on.