54 and the wild places.

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I fell into a habit a few years back of taking my birthday as a day off. I went from ‘I couldn’t possibly’ to ‘Why on earth not; we are not around here for long?’

Today I’ll be doing what I like doing: walking. It costs no money apart from a decent waterproof coat, good boots and trousers. Most of the kit I have is over 15 years old: it is battered, but still useful. It is hard to resist the siren lure of consumerism, you don’t need labels to define you or bring you contentment, plus there is something profound about well loved and worn items that have aged with me.

Mostly I do this on my own; walking in wild places, sometimes getting lost, frequently getting so tired so that conscious thought fades and being totally at the mercy of the elements is powerful. I like the isolated and random conversations with strangers as our stories intersect, often over a ruminative pint and I love the luxury of a slow soak in the bath when I get home.

Today I will mostly be off grid.

I cannot go back…

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There are significant moments of our life that we revisit over and over again. Each time we retell to ourselves that the story of that moment, it changes slightly until that moment becomes mythic and begins to tell us who we are now: I think the children of Israel did that with the stories they retold in Exile.

I realise that that leap I\we took over 5 years ago was life changing and significant and still affects the ‘now’. Also; the things that hurt then no longer hurt now.

When something changes radically, we often imagine that the way ahead will be relate to how it was in the past: it rarely is.

I’m not sure whether I would call this a poem, a prayer or a reflection, but here it is:-

 

I cannot go back,

No matter how smooth the way seems

(Or tempting).

It is closed now,

and although there are no maps

Or blinding flashes of light

In this ‘now’;

This grace and place,

This ‘now’ is enough.

 

Remember with thanks

every day,

for what has been

and know that the way ahead

Is not like the past.

5 and a bit years on.

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I have loads of thoughts and reflections from the last 5 years, but 4  more and I’ll stop.

1: No pattern. I have no pattern to being involved in a church in the way I understood ‘pattern’ six years ago. I still go, but sometimes through life circumstances, sporadically. I still use a spiritual director, still go once a year on a wilderness retreat, but many of the things I thought were a pattern and had been for years have gone, and ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’…

2: Freedom. The feeling of being ‘free’ is still glorious- knowing that weekends are 2 days long and that there are 7 evenings in a week that I have to account for to no one: ‘ought’ and ‘should’ have largely disappeared from my lexicon. Being able to support my children playing cricket over the last 5 years has been lovely without it being somehow ‘squeezed in’. I do not feel ‘hunted’ any more. Whilst I hesitate to say ‘never’, I never want to go back that way again.

3: I think I have ‘evening meetings PTSD’. I’ve been to one church related evening meeting in 5 years and I have no plans to go to another in the near future.  Over 15 years of evening meetings & tumbling home at past 10pm with a pile of things to do somehow burned me out. It was not sleeping after a particular traumatic meeting back over six years ago that was like a ‘road to Damascus’ moment for me- I knew, whatever the cost, that I could not continue to live my life in this way if I wanted to stay mentally healthy. I’m still involved in things in my local community, but I tend to want to leave a meeting in the evening after it lasts more than an hour: I invariably do.

4: Living…. I knew that the move would not be financially advantageous- moving out of a Manse at 49 with no assets isn’t easy. Someone at church spoke about someone still paying a mortgage at 60 as evidence that someone was less well off : I resisted saying ‘I wish I was that wealthy!’. Sometimes the feeling of dislocation , if used well is powerful: how can I minister to people who feel dislocated and that things are a struggle if I am comfortable? ‘You can’t smell it if you don’t smoke it’ is a good quote, but it is still hard though…

Here’s a 9th reason…

9: Are you happy you left and do you love what you do? Yes. I am in a rare and fortunate position of doing something I love, where the values of my work line up with my own values and where I feel supported and ‘psychologically safe’. I realise that not many in employment can say that.

5 years on

It was around five years ago that I had my farewell service as a church minister. Five years on the 2nd of March, I started my new role.

Some things that have become clearer over the 5 years:-

1: People are unutterably beautiful. When my world was church and church was almost everything, as much as I tried, I still think I defined people largely by their church involvement. It still concerns me when I hear ministers in a church refer to ‘key’ people. I know why they are saying it, but if people are indeed made in the image of God, then everyone is ‘key’.

I think I see people as more ’rounded’ now. I’m grateful for that change.

2: I can’t last without church. Many chaplains are so bruised by church that they largely cease being involved: I couldn’t understand why that would be the case when I was a full time minister…. until I found myself in that same situation.

For a while I largely stopped going to church, although I found my way back, yet I’ve let go of almost all of my commitments. However, I find I can’t live a full life without being in worship (even if it isn’t every week): being forced to be with others, knowing that I am not ‘self made’ yet loved, being forced to confront failings, knowing that seeking justice & fairness even to my own cost is the right way etc etc is essential to me; and I am not alone…

3: I don’t miss the ceaseless activity. I guess that every role always has a lot to do: more than can be done in the time available and where- if you are not careful-‘busy’ is a signifier of worth. I don’t miss the aspect of being ‘busy’ 6 days a week and several nights a week, feeling responsible and being unable to stop.

4: Christians are (generally) kind. Yes I’ve seen the rank hypocrisy and abuse scandals nationally (and tragically, close at hand..), but in general, people who are part of a church/other faith community seem to give more of themselves to their area and those around them than others.

It doesn’t stop me disliking even more ‘evangelical mansplaining’ where it happens  though…

There is more, but I’ll save that until next Sunday.

 

 

3 questions:3

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHNbHn3i9S4

‘I once read a newspaper article, watched a film, a tv programme, heard something on the radio. It made me feel very…… and I decided to….. which I had never done before.’

When I saw this question written down (read back & find 1 and 2 in this series), I thought of music. I find it impossible to live without music: not music that sounds like ‘aural wallpaper’ that in my darker moments I refer to ‘music for people who don’t really like music’, but music that reaches deep into you and takes more then a cursory listen to appreciate it. I am happy to admit ‘After 30 years, I’ve become my fears; I’ve become the kind of man I always hated’ (James ‘Come Home’ , but you knew that) and I’m a musical snob.

I was maybe 9 or 10 when I bought my first proper LP: ‘Revolver’. Even now, despite owning over 600 albums, I’d still say that it was my favourite & there is a tang of nostalgia every time I play my original LP. It was hearing ‘Tomorrow never knows’, however, that made me feel differently about music.

I think that the first time I heard it, I was immediately gripped by the feeling that music could be different; it didn’t have to be immediately accessible to be good. I didn’t understand it at first, but I kept playing it- and the whole album- again and again until I began to do so. It taught be that good art often has to be worked at to fully appreciate it.

That foray led into Sgt Pepper’s and then I was off in my teens through early 70s prog rock, and as I got still older onto other musical roads less travelled.  That journey still continues; at its most positive always trying to find something new and imaginative- at its most negative, if everyone else likes something , trying to be different. It was ‘Tomorrow never knows’ that began that. Even now, although Paul McCartney’s songs in the Lennon & McCartney partnership are lovely and wondrous, it is the more off kilter Lennon songs that I keep returning to.

My first listen to that song opened my eyes to the power of music to move and to change perceptions- good music is never merely an anodyne ‘nice’-but something stranger, richer and deeper.

3 Questions:2

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‘I once went to….. where I saw……which completely changed the way I think about….’

We all have stories lodged in our brain: isolated fragments that we return to that define how we interpret the world. In one of mine, I’m in the early years of primary school & my class are all together. The teacher is asking ‘Who wants to be in the school play?’ I really wanted to be in the play, but I was painfully shy and I longed to put my hand up, but didn’t.

I regretted it, because the memory stuck with me and became a metaphor for ‘feeling the fear and letting it take you over’, so when the preacher gave us all the above question, I began to alter it…

‘I once went to’ at this, I inserted the name of someone who is active in the church and the local amdram society. ‘where I saw’ I changed this to ‘where they said’ and remembered the gist of what they’d said: ‘You can do this’. They asked me to be part of a murder mystery; that childhood memory came back, but now I heard ‘You can do this’.

‘which completely changed the way I think about’ I added ‘acting’. I could do it: I wasn’t very good at it- few are when they try something which they’ve never done- I remember completely ‘blanking’ when I did the first rehearsal without a script: the empty stage seemed massive and the lights were so bright.

But ‘You can do it’. I could; I can. I am unlikely to be brilliant, but several productions and twelve or so years later, I’m still doing it and people laugh when I do comic parts.

That childhood memory still comes back, but this time I’ve got my hand up and I’m cast and something that scares me no longer does. I’m content.