15 things I have learned from blogging (and life).

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On the 11th day of Christmas…

These are 15 random things that over 8 years of blogging have taught me. People that analyse every comma and clause and look for watertight systematic thought should look away now. It is rather long, but then it is my penultimate posting (for now).

(1) Be yourself: try not to be an image of someone else or someone that you would like people to like. This is your platform: nobody else’s. People may not like what you write, but you write for you.

(2) Blogging is easy- it is just like writing a poem: you just open a vein and let it bleed.

(3) Try not to get too ‘preachy’. If you want to put something across, be ironic, playful and sometimes indirect. If you haven’t got a sense of humour and cannot be self deprecating, do not bother.

(4) Try to have a blog title that doesn’t involve your name. ‘Graham Peacock’s blog’ or ‘Insights from the ministry of Graham’, complete with a masthead of the writer with one of those preacher’s mics attached to the side of their head, probably says an awful lot about their ego. If someone does that, they probably need counselling before they attempt to blog.

(5) I do have a Faith: the best posts on that tend tangentially refer to it or occasionally be confessional about it.

(6)On Faith: there are few things that I understand any more but I know You are there. I have more questions, I am less sure & I mostly I just don’t know. But I know You are there.

(7) I have seen so many things and people crash I am painfully aware of my own fragility ( and that of my family,my life, my circumstances, my faith etc). This could all end at any minute. I have found my first (actually 2nd blog- the first one was back in late 2007/early 2008 and had 2 or 3 posts) www.diggingalot.blogspot.co.uk: my writing has changed a lot as I have got older and more aware of this reality.

(8)- Most people can’t cope with ‘telling it like it is’. I am no expert, but rather talking about your own questions, shortcomings or even ‘Hey people; the king has no clothes on.’ is something many people struggle to process. Many Christians want to hear Easter Sunday: Holy Week and the desolation of Good Friday are like an embarrassing relative that has to be endured/ignored before the real party begins. The trouble is, our everyday reality has a lot more Good Fridays and Easter Saturdays.

(9)I feel I get on better with those who have a divergent view to me; you discover more in trying to speak of what you believe and trying to listen to what they believe. Hell; it is more exciting.You often find strange and unlikely friends.

(10) Bloggers like those I have encountered and have got on with over the past 8 or so years tend to be out in the ‘wilderness’. Their voices are often more beautiful to me than those safe in the ‘city’.

(11) Every blogger has to be aware of ‘theological masturbation’: merely self pleasuring and producing little that will help any one, only the like -minded.

(12)-I’m getting old. Really I am. I have really felt this in the last year- keenly aware of a younger generation, of children growing up, of life shifting. This makes a difference to how I see the world; one result is the things that used to work me up don’t any more. I prefer songs in minor keys even more than I did.

(13) Within the Church, I have encountered the greatest love & support  I have ever known. I have also seen some of the greatest bastardy as well.

(14) Use good grammar. I blogged daily and had many grammar fails. Too many and anything you write is hard to follow.

(15)I can never, ever get past Grace; I haven’t experienced anything else like it under the sun.  The challenge has always been to show that in my blogging: I have rarely managed it.

Why 15 things? Because there are…

Pantomime again

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On the 10th day of Christmas…

I said I would only do it once, but I’m involved in the village pantomime again….for the 7th time. Try as I might, I can never get the role that is furthest away from me: the evil baddie- I am sure there is a Freudian thing going on there. When I audition for macho roles, people laugh… & I end up being cast as The Dame. I am not complaining: I love it: for someone who can’t really act, it is an honour.

Each year I do it, I realise how heavily dependent you are on each other: not just the people on stage, but everyone involved. But is it fantastic: you get to be someone else and when it is over, you can walk away. It connects you with others and with your village in a different way.

I’ve written blogs on panto before: essentially I am just repeating myself. However, this year it feels different- as I have let go of so much (see the last few blogs), I don’t feel so much this year that I am ‘juggling’ (apart from the normal juggling of work, home, family life etc); I’ve enjoyed rehearsing more, I seem to know my lines more (but we’ll see once it starts on Friday...), I feel more ‘present’ and I no longer feel like an ignoramus who has no clue as to what is going on.

One big thing I have appreciated since leaving full time church ministry is ‘space’- mental space- and practical space. I no longer have to contemplate 3,4, 5 evenings out before I can contemplate any space for me or my family.

I would struggle to write that even 3 years ago: there, as there are ministers around who indulge in a kind of ‘4 Yorkshireman’ thing: ‘OOO…only 5 evenings, well let me tell you how much I’ve been out in the last 2 months….’ And I am still part of on line groups where some ministers struggle with giving themselves any space.

I am hoping that a break from blogging continues this mood of feeling I have more ‘space’, or when I do something to be able to fully concentrate on it without wondering how I can fit another evening in.

But for now, it is ‘break a leg time:- Friday pm, Sat afternoon and then Wed-Sat evenings (and a Saturday afternoon) next week. After that, it is all over, unless you audition next time of course, if I do….. (ok, when…)

 

New Paths

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On the 9th day of Christmas…

…you think about coming Epiphany; new insights, new ways.

A few weeks ago I was leading a course in a hotel. During one of the breaks, to get some fresh air and to refocus, I went for a walk. In the distance, I could see the sea. I asked the staff if there was a path to the sea. They said that they thought that there was one; they’d heard that there might be. However, they’d never been: they’d travelled in, worked, but never had time or space to find out.

I began this blog in June 2008: I was about to begin a sabbatical and it was one of my aims. I’d read so many and I had a fair idea of where I wanted to pitch it and I enjoyed it: I still do. In February of the following year, I began to blog daily. It really wasn’t that hard: I have so many thoughts whirling around my head it is a relief to write them down (Yes: I’m not perfect- I’m proud of nearly 8 years of daily blogging). I thought that most people were like that, but they do not seem to be. I have also had a belief that the examined life is not worth living.

It has been quite a ride; before my counter broke, I think I’d had over a quarter of a million hits. That is not huge, but as numbers are important to me, I took that as a big deal. I’ve met new people and formed friendships: some on line and some face to face. My life has been immeasurably improved by the experience.

However, I want to find that path to the sea again. At nearly 51, you realise that you are not going to go on forever- my children at nearly 13 and over 15, are-if not ready to leave for a few years yet are flexing their wings, I haven’t read a book all the way through in depth for a while (and I have a few shelves full of ones I want to read), my guitar playing has stalled and I want to have more time for long unhurried conversations and daydreaming. And I want to do this without blogging about it;at least all of the time.

I might not find that path, but I think that this time is all about looking for it. As Tolkien said : ‘Not all those who wander are lost’.

 

Letting go

On the 8th day of Christmas….

….You re calibrate: the main celebration is over and you try and look differently into the new year.

I once had a lecturer at college who spoke about how there should be a ‘sacrament of letting go’. He spoke pertinently: he had just returned to work whilst in remission from a terminal disease. The disease eventually took him. I hardly knew him, but that phrase, together with his imagery of Autumn leaves falling stuck with me.

We often believe, perhaps especially as we reach past our 30s, into our 40s and eventually into our 50s that what we have will last forever, even when we know it won’t.

Where I am hardly compares to any of that, but the last 2 years have been a time of ‘letting go’: of full time church ministry, a family home, kids leaving Primary School & that whole social world, finishing the football sessions that a group of friends ran in the village for over 6 years, leaving Beaver Scouts (ditto) and….. well I think that is it: there may be more.

On Friday, I anticipate letting go of this blog- at least in it’s daily incarnation- for some time. Perhaps it might be permanent: I’m not sure.

Sometimes you have to let go to find something: you can’t find it whilst you hold on to something; however important it is. I got the title from a verse in- I think- Habakkuk, which talked about digging around the a plant to bring new life. It is time to do some more digging…

New Year’s Day

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On the 7th day of Christmas….

‘If the Lord does not build the house, the work of the builders is useless’.

Back in the day, in the first flush of Christian commitment, I used to underline verses in my Bible and date them. I think that was because they spoke to me about a particular situation.  I have the above verse underlines in an old Good News version with the date ‘1/1/87’: 30 years ago today.

I can remember why I did it: I knew that that was the beginning of my last year in full time education. By the middle of that year, I would have a 2:1 in politics, by September, my first full time job and my first flat. In the early part of the next year, I would meet the person who is now my wife and in the year after (1989) I would be married and we would own the only home we ever had.

All of that was unknown 30 years ago today- I honestly did not know what the future held or where I would be or what I would be doing. I remember being excited, anticipative and not a little scared. Even now, 30 years later, I still do not know what I will be doing when I grow up.

But- even taken out of context (which proof texters tend to do), it is a pretty good guiding light for the year to come. I think my 2017 will be a good deal more stable than 1987, but I do not know. It is a warning not to be so complacent and to make Faith something more than an add on extra, which I am wont to do.

………………………………

Now I am older, wiser and more theologically literate, I no longer underline verses. Perhaps I have lost something.

Posada

 On the 6th Day of Christmas…

The church I go to does a Posada every Advent. It is a knitted nativity set. Households sign up to take it every night and the people behind it do a really good job of getting everyone to write in a journal, take pictures, light a candle, share a prayer etc etc. We like it; it helps us enter into the season.

Ours came on a Friday. I generally go to the pub on the Friday. I suppose I could have kept it at home, safe and sacred as a centrepiece, but I thought I would take some of it to the pub.

It was difficult, I guess- doing something like this in the pub, but some entered into it, even if various obscene suggestions were made (don’t ask) about where Jesus was and one person tried to baptise Mary in a pint of beer. I think it was worth it: see the photo above of Jesus with the Landlord of the Inn (geddit?).

It got me thinking though: it would have been far easier to keep it at home- less threatening and less potential for embarrassment or accident. But then I thought; that would just be like the rest of us with our Faith….

Holy Innocents

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On the 4th day of Christmas….

I am a day late with this (although on time if I followed the Eastern Calendar), but yesterday was ‘Holy Innocents Day’. I never got that in the tradition I came to faith in and grew in: the liturgical year was remote and a by product of an irrelevant older tradition.

I think I get it more now: the year marked into seasons and celebrations which come round year after year. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel in an exhausting drive to be ‘relevant’: rather you just have relax and follow- all human life is there.

That is the case with Holy Innocents Day- the day commemorating the strange, brutal and bloody story in Matthew 2:16-8 when Herod massacred all the children in Bethlehem under the age of 2. Whether ‘true’ or not, it is a welcome corrective to the saccharine nature of Christmas as it is celebrated.

I do love celebration, parties, food and all the other things that mark Christmas- we need the joy and celebration. However, with no commemoration of the dark side, we can’t even begin to accept that unexplained and viscous suffering is also part of the same story.

I remember, years ago, hearing someone read a poem based on this day and it had the line in ‘I wish you’d never come’- I thought that was controversial at the time, but I now I understand more.

Years back, when this day fell on the day of a united all-age service, I proposed doing something on this theme and I was overruled: sometimes people cannot take ‘telling it like it is’- even (and sometimes especially) in the church, which I think is  one place where doubt, fear, unexplained questions and lament can be safely heard….

…and that is one reason why I started blogging.

Back in the saddle

On the 3rd day of Christmas….

To be honest, I never thought I’d do it again: preach on Christmas Day. I’d had 15 Christmas Days in a row in the pulpit and then I left pastoral ministry: perhaps never to return. But the opportunity came up and my family (who have made so many compromises for me over 15 years) said yes. So I did.

I’d forgotten how hard it was. On the face of it, it is an open goal: Christmas, Jesus, people coming to church in greater numbers than usual and a story that is ‘known’- who wouldn’t want to?

But the other side- it is so familiar that people stop listening- you only have to sing a carol and people (including me) are in a world of 3 kings, choral angels, cuddly shepherds in tea towels and an innkeeper saying no room at the inn: none of which are actually in the Biblical stories in that way. It is easy, with a minimum of preparation to put something out there.

So you pray, you read the stories again and again…and then deeply…and then try to imagine that you have never heard them before. You read widely; trying to understand the cultural background (shepherds are apparently not cuddly and neither do they wear tea towels). Then you begin to ‘read’ your area, your culture…and not just that inside the churches (try and avoid the temptation of 3 cliches and a bit of Christianese….I will kill if I hear the phrase ‘the babe in the manger’ again).

After that…simple, but not simplistic- profound, but ‘earthed’ and then accessible to all ages without straying into the ‘dear children’ category. And then worship that is worship and not gimmicky…

I think I just about managed it…

…but then most preachers think they preach well…

Carols and memory

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On the second day of Christmas…

I will never tire of this song; in fact, I have posted it several times.

I went through a phase when I found carols to be mawkish, over sentimentalised and theologically inaccurate. Of course, they are all of those- and yet they are something more.

It is only now, that I am over 50 that I begin to see it- they are memory. As I sing them, I remember Christmases past; both events that happened and people that are no longer here. I have seen this on wards; people who cannot always cognitively perceive things that well due to memory loss, are able to sing carols word perfectly.People who say that they have little or no faith are unashamedly able to sing carols loudly.

All of them express joy in the singing and joy afterwards. Somehow the mood is lifted as memory flickers into life. Yet also, hope is reawakened for the future:-

‘It is because of the dark,

we see the beauty in the spark.

That;s why,

That’s why,

the carols make you cry.’

And even if it is quickly snuffed out- ‘Christmas is over’ (it is only the 2nd day of Christmas...), there is still the hope and longing that things could be different…

Boxing Day

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On the first day of Christmas…

It is Boxing Day. A day when perhaps the only feeling that many of us have is ‘full’. Days like this call for quietness and reflection.

During Advent, I have been having my customary listen to one of Sufjan Stevens’ 5 album Christmas collections. This track from ‘Silver and Gold’ struck me as the ideal listening material for today, this first day of Christmas (yes, you are allowed to hit the first person today who says ‘That’s Christmas over for another year then‘).

It is far better than hitting the sales today to buy more stuff that you don’t need to replace the stuff that you are sick with, in my humble opinion.