On venerating your child

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Our youngest child was selected for the Cleveland Schools’ cricket squad in the last week. In addition he is coming to the end of his second close season spell with Yorkshire Pathways Bronze level; that puts him in the top 80-100 children of his age group at cricket in this county. He bowls leg break & googly (if you don’t know what that is, look it up! The picture above, of England’s Adil Rashid, gives some idea of the contortions neccesary) , which is the ‘holy grail’ of bowling; at one time it was as rare as hen’s teeth. It is notoriously difficult to master and when he is on song, it is a beautiful thing to watch as the ball swings one way through the air, pitches and then moves the other way. At times I have watched him in the nets & seen good batsmen frequently flailing at thin air in frustration as they cannot ‘read’ him.

Of course, with sport, it could all end at any time. Teenage years kick in, injuries happen,the selections get tighter and someone doesn’t ‘make’ it, academic pressures become more intense etc etc, but at the moment, both children have a combination of academic ability, opportunity) and sporting gifts that I never had.

I could go on for longer; naturally I am proud, but at the same time something in me doesn’t feel right to talk in this way. In the same way, when our oldest child did better at GCSEs than we expected- in fact did really well- I did not post the full details on social media; it doesn’t feel right to crow in this way.

I’ve had this passage underlined in a book for a long time:-

‘The problem for someone like me who desires that his children lead successful, competent lives, is knowing that the cost of this may at times be insensitivity to others, that in urging them to do well I may be urging them to be inconsiderate, lacking in thoughtfulness about others. In other words the Christian values of community and equality are not the easiest standards to hold up when you’re also interested in perpetuating your privileged situation in society through your children and your own behaviour’. (Robert Coles in Hirsch & Hirsch  (2010) p163)

There is a temptation in those of us who have faith to live lives of ‘practical atheism’; as long as you do your ‘religious duty’ the rest of your life is your own business. I exaggerate of course, but when I hear discussions among middle class believers about finding a ‘good church’ (which is what exactly?) the words of an old Divine Comedy song come back to mind:-

‘The cars in the car park were shiny and German,

Distinctly at odds with the theme of the sermon’

which puts the point rather more succinctly.

No answers at the moment, apart from trying to avoid the ‘competitive dad’ huddles as parents jockey for position, teaching your children to be proud, yet not to crow,  look down on others or be envious of those who have more gifts,being a bit more thankful when you are tempted to whinge at life and realising that all of this is temporary and could grow or cease at any time and lots of good, wholesome things like that. etc etc

Yet at the same time thoughts dog you; is this enough? Have you got it right? Or are you really doing anything differently to anyone else?

…maybe not…

Sticking wings on angels

I had one of those rare days recently when I managed to do some of the niggly jobs that always seem to get left in many households (we also took a walk; the view above is around 200 yards from where we live). I spent a happy 20 minutes or so repairing ornaments that had gotten damaged; mainly from having two large and growing teenagers in the house whose first priority isn’t necessarily looking after said house.

Two of those repairs involved sticking wings on angel ornaments; generally having ornaments fielding at short square leg isn’t a good idea. As I was repairing them, it struck me that we have rather a lot of ornaments in the house that are angels. I don’t subscribe to the belief that you have a ‘guardian angel’ or that angels are chubby cheeked infants fluttering around with wings, but I do like the idea of ‘messengers’; unlooked for or surprising people who help unexpectedly. Having a lot of angels about the place is therefore encouraging; or at least I find it to be so.

I could of course throw these ornaments away (actually, there is a case for throwing every ornament away until children have reached a mature age- such as around 35...) and get new ones. We haven’t; some have sentimental value and remind us of a person or a place and with finances pressing, replacing things that you can otherwise mend is not really an option. But there is another, deeper reason; most angels I have met have not been shiny and complete, but somehow marred or broken. In fact; I have rarely been helped by people who believe themselves shiny or complete: most often they don’t really want to bleed with you, but to ‘fix’ you.

This might have led me to a deeply theological musing, nonetheless I hope that I don’t have to fix many more ornaments…

A settled community

Three years or so ago someone said to me something like ‘When you get this job; they won’t want you living in this parish- you’ll have to move’. I remember saying something like ‘ ‘they’ have no power over me’ like that’. I can still recall the delicious feeling of freedom that I felt.

‘They’ have no power over me.

Even saying that phrase now, I feel the same sense of freedom. I travelled for years under a false sense of obligation. I’m part of a closed Facebook group for ministers of my denomination; often I can sense that unhealthy feeling of over obligation; mostly it is self perpetuated, but with ‘they’ controlling your accommodation and in some ways your life it is a living reality. In hindsight, it was a reality that was slowly draaining the life out of me.

I’ve realised that part of my make up is to resist; if ‘everyone’ seems to be doing something; I’ll often desire to do the opposite. That wasn’t the reason why we chose to stay in this village that we’d lived in for over 10 years- no one could be that petty- but sometimes it comes back to me; I’ve done something that ‘they’ wouldn’t like.

I guess we stayed in this place because of ‘community’: that feeling that you get where-as the theme to ‘Cheers’ goes- everyone knows your name. If not ‘everyone’, many people. The unforced and random conversations that result in pubs, shops, churches and on the street are lovely: you don’t have to be always working to establish yourself. The impact on my mental health of not changing everything all at once and keeping many of the same friends and community activities has been incalculable; it has given me the basis to make new friends and try new things.

Friends who are ministers have often asked how that is possible: to live in an area where you were a minister. If you have friends outside the Christian bubble (which many full time, paid,  church people seem to struggle to do), it is natural and easy: or at least I have found it to be the case. Some of the same ministers have also wondered if church people can ‘cope’ with that. I think that betrays an unhealthy view of people who attend churches to be almost like children who cannot cope without a change in role of the ‘adult’ minister. I’ve found what I already knew: that view is manifest nonsense, people are ‘adult’ enough.

 

…oh and perhaps ‘they’ never thought that possible: it is.

It was easier to get rid of than I thought…

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Books

‘Stuff’

Notes

Even souvenirs that I had held on to for years.

I got rid of a lot. At first I went through things slowly, carefully filtering what to keep and what not to keep.

And then we moved. At first the pile of boxes slowly diminished and then when all of the unpacking was done, there was still more to do. Eventually, some of what was unpacked was repacked for the tip/recycling/charity shops. What began as a slow stream became a raging torrent.

Contemplating that months before gave me some anxiety: how can I get rid of that? Where am I going to put that? How can I live without that?

But when you are in the middle of a change it gets easier.

It is challenging though: I have become wary of very wealthy people in big houses and secure finances talking about how we don’t need possessions to define us, who at the same time seem unwilling to part with what they have. My educated middle-classness was (and still is) defined by what I have accumulated and held on to. At 49, as I was then, you have a tacit expectation of stability, security and mortgages paid off and you become defined by what you have. Getting rid of large amounts of that and having little financial stability threatens all of that: Who am I? What will I be? Why am I somehow ‘different’ than my peers?

At times the process went:

I can’t move.

This is too hard.

And then, slowly and fleetingly, yet the frail flame of faith is always guttering and threatening to be blown out:

I can move.

We can do this.

We are doing this.

The financial stability, 3 years down the line, has not yet come, but the feeling of release and freedom has; I haven’t missed much of what I’ve let go. And with that freedom, comes openness: what shall I be? Where will we go next?

It is always hard and yet easier to get rid of what can can never hold on to for ever: I don’t think that you find Grace without it…

Tempus fugit. A lot.

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There is a line from Dark Side of the Moon’ that goes: ‘Then one day you find, 10 years have got behind you’.

I’ve just realised that it is around 3 years this week since I had my leaving service from being a Methodist minister in a regular church appointment. My local friends tell me I am ‘defrocked’; I’m still very much ‘frocked’ (although mostly in pantomime).

I don’t know what I imagined on that day: we still had nowhere to live (that is a long and painful story & one reason why I still don’t preach regularly), I had no model of what the future looked like, it was nearly 20 years since I last had a contract of employment and I had no live model of what spirituality looked like outside of being a rev within a church.

3 years later and I’m still standing: sometimes that has been ‘just standing’ and sometimes it has been ‘thriving’. Mostly it has been somewhere in the middle; often a mix during the same day.

In the next few days, I’m going to do a bit of thinking out loud about what these 3 years have meant. Once thing I have learned, however, is that change, huge change is possible and I never thought it would be for me. Most of us spend a huge amount of time, energy and money trying to fight it off and ultimately we can’t. At best, it makes you feel more ‘alive’: the highs are higher and the lows are lower than you’ve ever felt.

Nothing is sacred. Perhaps because of that; everything is sacred- even the bits that you’d prefer to skip.

14

How do you mark important events in your family’s life if you blog?

You could take the approach of ‘Little Jocasta, bless her, has just completed her PHD in time for her 11th birthday, now dances for the Ballet Rambert and is looking forward to her England hockey debut. She has lots of aaamazing friends, rides her own pony. By the way we live in a massive house, have lots of money and everything is so successful and shiny.’

I have read posts that are a bit like that with polish up life to an unnecessarily bright sheen.  They used to depress me in that I did not live in the sunlit uplands that they seemed to inhabit. Now I mostly feel sorry that the posters are so insecure.

My youngest son is 14 today. The first time I marked his birthday on this blog, he was 5. I could say he is ‘amazing’ , ‘fantastic’ and a whole host of other adjectives. Of course he is: if you are a parent, there is something seriously wrong if you don’t believe this- it comes with the territory. There is also something seriously wrong when you pretend that your family life is a bed of roses.

I can’t say too much about him: whereas younger kids don’t have a great problem with their images posted on line or their personalities talked up, teenage boys do. I guess I could wish for him success, health and happiness, but I’m more drawn to this song/prayer: I don’t want him to be an alpha male who crushes those weaker than him on his way to whatever his future is, to be cruel to be kind, to do unto others before they do it unto him or to look after number 1:-

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Happy Birthday, Ben!

A cricket tour, but more than that.

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I never got this song at first. I only heard the surface story: about a city. I neglected to listen to the deeper story; about being a father.

We went on a cricket tour to Taunton, Ben and I. Or to be more accurate, he went on a cricket tour and I went to watch. I guess he did well with the opportunities he was given. He didn’t take loads of wickets, but he wasn’t slogged, he asked many questions of good batsmen and he was a presence in the field (ok; I am biased). As a teenage legspinner learning your craft, that is more than enough at this stage.

The longer the cricket tour progressed, the more that this song came to mind (I can think of few significant life occasions and the concomitant reflections that are not given greater depth by the addition of a Martyn Joseph song, but that is a story for another day…). We weren’t just on a tour, but we were living life together; sharing questions, enthusiasms and humour.

Deeper than that, I was interpreting life experiences that he was having and listening to his stories. And I was realising that moments like this – ‘this is one day of our lives’ are what you live for; the world becomes a stiller and lovelier place.

16

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Time flies.

Well it doesn’t as such; there are the long grey Thursday afternoons of the soul when nothing seems to move, sleepless nights when a child just won’t settle that seem to go on forever or that endless longing when young for Christmas Day and presents to arrive.

But when you look back, all of those things fade; time seems to fly/vanish/speed/ evaporate.  Choose your adjective; but it will always have something about speed in it.

That child on the left (he doesn’t allow photos on social media now and at 6ft 2′ and rising he has the power to enforce that...) in that picture taken years ago- but in my head; yesterday- is 16 today.

Millions of others are 16 today, but this one is my son- and I can still remember the day he was born…and time continues to fly….

Happy Birthday, Matthew!

Teenagers

Just a brief break in the blog silence… IMG_1566

As from now, I am able to say that I have teenage children: our youngest child, Ben, is 13 today.

The picture above feels like a lifetime ago when people were smaller, pleasures were simpler and children’s questions were less complex. Children growing is part of the natural order of things, but photos don’t grow and change and sometimes-like the one above-feel poignant.

Most of his day will be spent away from us: cricket coaching in York and then Yarm, which he loves (as is good at). There was a time when birthdays were spent all together, but now the pull of his own life and friends is strong; as it should be. There will, however, be moments of shared joy when we will all be together.

And now, for the next few years, a house full of teenagers….

Christmas Cards

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It may have been a bout of norovirus last week that finally did it, Or maybe it was the combination of 2 full time jobs, one of which seems to have no ‘off’ time. Perhaps it was the impact of parenting two (nearly) teenage boys and being a long way from family, but Christmas cards did not get written (again) this year.

Part of me feels guilt about that; people won’t get cards. However, most of the people I care about I will see, phone or keep up with on social media. Maybe, too, people of my generation, being in similar situations are beginning to do likewise- perhaps a new pattern is emerging.

There is also a bit of regret: some people I will lose touch with- perhaps permanently. However, for many of these people the card was the last remaining sign of a relationship that effectively finished some time ago.

Mostly it is a relief: you can only live at hyper speed for so long before you have to say ‘enough’. It is also part of my new future- leaving full time church ministry nearly 2 years ago has led to a long string of ‘letting goes’ in order that the new can be found and experienced.

You can’t hold on to the past forever.