An occasional Lent series:7

My oldest son despairs of my taste in clothes.

My wife does.

They are right: I have almost no interest in clothes. There is almost nothing wrong in my view with old jeans and the first t shirt grabbed from a wardrobe. I reckon that my clothes budget for a year is less than £100; maybe much less.

I am blessed with a brother in law that wears designer jeans: when he is fed up of them, I get them (and I say ‘Does it depress you that your old fat brother in law can wear your jeans?’ I don’t add ‘you loser’ as he is bigger and stronger than me.). I am blessed with a mother in law who scours the Marks and Spencers & markets of Manchester to find decent clothes for me that come as Christmas or Birthday presents.

Mind you, my friends do say: ‘What do you call that look: Man from Oxfam?’ or say ‘I can see who has been at the bags outside the MIND shop’.

Some of it is a genuine ‘can’t be bothered’. Some of it is definitely reverse snobbery: I live in an enclave of the expensively attired & designer labelled. There is no way I can keep up so I stopped trying & flaunt my shabbiness.

I perhaps exaggerate, but maybe Lent is a time to stop buying and be thankful or even buy differently: buy one item of quality as opposed to several cheap items to make you feel better.

Maybe I do need a new suit though….

An occasional Lent series:6

photo guitar

I guess this breaks the rules of my occasional Lent series in that a guitar is a luxury. However, I would regard books and music more as necessities. I am more likely to turn on to someone who has a front room strewn with books, music & musical instruments than someone who has a tidy front room of discrete, understated elegance.

This is my guitar (in a feat of ministerial over extravagance I have two: the other was a ‘free’- this cost)- well the electric one. It is apparently a good make, but I got it for around a third of what it should have cost off eBay. Similar ones retailed for much more and attracted a lot of bids. This didn’t. Maybe it is the colour: something else than my near teenage son pronounces as ‘gay’.

It does, I am told, lend itself to euphemisms. Apparently to say ‘Oh, my wrist hurts; I have just been upstairs practising hard on my pink guitar’ may be considered risque in polite company. Obviously as someone ordained, I have no idea what they are talking about.

It works, it feels good, it makes a lovely sound, plus I can practice unplugged with my bad chords and no one in the house complains. Occasionally, I am permitted to play and sing; mind you, when I played ‘Lucky’ (Radiohead) a few weeks back I nearly lost my cool when I was asked: ‘Who is Sarah and why do you want her to kill you?’

As a bonus, it can be slipped on top of a parcel shelf when we go away for holidays. The colour/style/expense does not matter: its use matters most. Something else about Lent: being thankful over what you have- my life is unlikely to get any better through buying more stuff. The inner and musical journey is more important.


An occasional Lent series:5

U2 box

My son made this- it must have been about 5-6 years ago. He knew I liked u2. I think he likes the idea that I still have it in my study (my study is a man den: I feel at home there) , although now, close to 13, he would probably pronounce it ‘gay’. Mind you- he calls most things  ‘gay’, although to accentuate the force it may say ‘That is the gayest gay thing ever.’

Things made by my children in the past become very precious and I am loathe to throw them out. This box has a function: it is a place for SD cards & ‘bits’- items that I might need in the future but haven’t yet been able to throw away.

I suppose I could buy a better receptacle: like one of the many that litter those shops that people mooch around aimlessly on a Sunday afternoon. The kind of places smelling of pot- pourri, Enya- lite playing in the background & shelves coated in distressed Farrow & Ball where you buy stuff you don’t need because you feel you have to buy something.

I could: but shelves in studies should be untidy, covered in things that have little monetary value but mean something.

So, this Lent, I am going to look at things like this & give thanks. Plus: avoid shops that sell you an unattainable & illusory lifestyle.

It’s happier that way.

An occasional Lent series:4

Back in late ’84, in my first term as a student, my dad sent me £10. That was quite a sum then (I am sounding like ‘Grandpa Joe’). I wanted to spend it on something: not just add it to general ‘spends’. Actually, as a student I was frugal and probably spent more on tea than booze.

So I thought and thought and then realised that what I really wanted was a copy of ‘Lord of the Rings’. Someone at VIth form used to affectionately call me ‘Gollum’ and I used to like ProgRock: which would be nowhere without mythical beasts, LOTR references and absence of real, human emotions. So, I was curious.

The thing is, I did not just want any old copy, but three books; in a slipcase. This was ‘living’ to me: I could be a proper adult. I have read these three books in their entirety several times since then, the last time only a few weeks ago. Although I care for books (don’t get me started on people who break book spines straight away), after 30 years they are battered. More so, since my 10 year old son in a bid to feed his ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Hobbit’ obsession, borrowed one. He does not care for keeping books in pristine condition.

When I got married, it was almost the only ‘serious’ novel I had ever read, apart from those school had compelled me to read. Even now, I open the books from time to time and smell them (this is strange: I am not sure that anyone else does this...) and am still reminded ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ (possibly the first Proust reference I have used in mixed company) of what that time felt like.

The thing is, I could easily replace them, lulled into a false sense of consumer need by advertising. Maybe I could get a Folio copy or something more pristine with quality, matt white pages? I could display them on a coffee table to display my good taste and innate, understated, quality.

Lent is a time to resist lies like that: display your battered, uncoordinated books and use them for what they are meant for- reading, not aspirational lifestyle accessories.

An occasional Lent series:3

We lived in Colwyn Bay from 1999-2004. It was my first appointment as a Methodist Minister. Our children were born there and each year we try to go back; the place has so many good memories.

I had never done a school assembly, much less been in a school until I went there. Next to one of the churches was a Methodist Public School and part of what I was asked to do was to lead some assemblies in there. At first I was overawed by being up on stage in front of 400 11-18 year olds & stood at the lectern and gave my peroration in much the same way as everyone else.

One day, however, I turned up with one of those intense head colds where the world seems ‘furry’ and distant. I literally had no nerves, suddenly realised that there was no need to pretend- these 11-18 year olds didn’t really want to listen to another vicar, especially at 8.30am- left the lectern and started to talk and eyeball people. It was a formative experience & has governed how I do school assemblies now. In fact the more hostile/disinterested the audience, the more I like it.

As I was leaving the school, the head boy came up to me and gave me his slightly battered copy of the above CD. I think he said something like ‘You talk about music: I thought you would like this.’ I already had a copy, a much better preserved one, which I have since given away, but I have kept this copy.

Every time I look of it I think of gifts given that were not looked for, of unlikely connections & of a ‘thank you’ that I never expected. Then I look at my vast and unwieldy collection of music and realise that most of the ones I treasure the most were unexpected gifts. I have often been blessed when I did not expect it.

An occasional Lent Series:2

That is not my car. My car is a little better presented. However, my car has rust, the driver’s door catch has fallen off, one of the wheel trims is missing, the inside is battered, the left side electrics don’t work and a warning light is perpetually ‘on’ on the dashboard. It has also done 133,000 miles. Talking about it that way, in a village where a lot of people own ‘Chelsea Tractors’ that cost as much as a reasonable sized house in Middlesbrough, is a kind of reverse snobbery.

It could do with being replaced: the last few M.O.T.s have been touch and go over whether it will be written off. Replacing it is currently outside of our means, which leads to some anxiety. In my dreams I am Jurgen Klinsmann (former Tottenham Hotspur & German penalty area diving champion) who in the face of team mates driving large and flash cars, persisted in driving an old Volkswagen Beatle: a car which broke down and had to be written off on his way back to Germany. Underneath this mild mannered village minister exterior lies an outsider anti hero; like Harrison Ford in ‘Bladerunner’….and also someone who is dangerously self deluded….

But then again, I am lucky/blessed. We have two cars; what I am describing is essentially #firstworldproblems, although it would be hard to live in a rural area with scant public transport, both doing the work that we do without a second car. But then again, we live in a rural area and in a village that we could not afford to live in with the money we have coming in.; we are fortunate.The car is also maintained by a mechanic who manages to keep it on the road and will not charge more than the car needs to keep it going. He also has an attitude that cars are for transport, however they look: not as male psychological penis substitutes.

So, overall, this Lent- another chance to say ‘thank you’ and to be happy in my own skin.

An occasional Lent series:1

You know the feeling: ‘the new you’, ‘because I deserve it’ or just that sensation that you ‘need’ that new outfit, car, music, white good. I said ‘you’: I could have said ‘I’: confronted with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction I buy music- just read this blog or any of my tweets.

A couple of days back I linked to a sermon- it was a good one, about wilderness/emptiness being a necessary part of life  ( Maybe sometimes I need to do that with ‘stuff’: not buy my way out of wilderness, but look at what I already have and say ‘thank you’.

So here is the idea: not ‘poverty chic’, but instead of moaning about the stuff I haven’t got, posting random bits about things that I have, and have mostly used for ages.



This is my 50p tea mug which I have had for 10 years. We had a holiday near Stoke (times were hard) and one day, pregnant with a young child in tow we visited the seconds outlets in the pottery mills. This was an impulse buy: they sell these for around £8 in National Trust shops. Thing is: tea/coffee tastes better in this- it must be my favourite mug.Maybe it is because of the thickness of the china or just the psychology of having got something cheap that felt good when times were hard.

And the more I see slim 20 somethings in adverts clutching designer mugs (organic, fairly traded and handmade by an Apple user with an annoying goatee) as a sign of their successful lives and oh so beautiful friends (won’t you come buy and you can have the same life as we have?), the less I want to join them. I am 48, not slim, with a cheap mug that enjoys things just as they are.


Looking Through the Cross

I was never raised in a tradition that ‘did’ Lent. I had heard about it, but it had little resonance with me; too much interruption to ‘normal’ life- but I guess that is part of the point…

Giles Fraser wrote something in the Guardian about the increasing observance of Lent ( which is well worth reading: his usual opinionated fire-storm of words. In it he rants at the ‘secular’ observance of Lent which he views as too narcissistic. The whole point of Lent is to focus on something ‘other’: to think, stop, be quiet and refocus.

Once I gave up booze for Lent, but as Giles Fraser writes ‘this year I am giving up giving up’. This year I will be reading. Not just reading, but thoughtful reading. Last year I bought the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recommended book for Lent 2013 (‘Abiding’ by Ben Quash) and read slowly, one chapter a week.

Someone remarked to me last week about the number of articles I reference on Facebook and Twitter but also in conversation. They reckoned that it must take a lot of time: it doesn’t. One of my problems is that I read too fast and not thoughtfully enough. So this week, from today, I will be starting the above book which is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recommended book for Lent 2014.

And I have to say: I can’t wait….

Some more Lent ideas

I have been storing this for a while. Really what I should do is link up to Stephen Cherry’s blog during Lent and stop blogging. What he writes is brilliant: outlined with lots of space, simplicity, but very deep.

All of them are very very rich, but I will choose this one for today. It cuts and challlenges the part of middle England where I live:-

‘7. Practise Hospitality

Take the trouble to notice the people you don’t usually notice. Offer a greeting when others are locked in silence. Learn how to wave in an affirming, positive way. Learn how to smile across a room or make eye-contact across a meeting to support someone who is struggling. You can’t be friends with everyone, but by being friendly you can touch, and perhaps change, many people’s lives and even have an impact on the whole social environment of a neighbourhood. Don’t think that you need to turn your home into a refuge for ex-prisoners in order to exercise true hospitality. Simply take one small but deliberate step in the direction of being more hospitable’.

The rest are here:-

Lent 2: A book

So, after doing loads of school assemblies about Lent and getting children to think of ideas that might help them appreciate Lent, I decided to do something.

Well, I decided to ‘do’ something unproductive.

I decided to read a book. Not just read it and get through it, but read it slowly, purposefully and read it all through Lent. I wanted to read something about ‘slow’ that was not anything like ‘Do lots of stuff so people will like you and say you are a good minister’; there are plenty of books like that.

But I am not part of a tradition that really does Lent- but I know one who does, so I got this:-

It is hard to explain it really; it is about mindfulness, about not rushing on to the next thing but without becoming rigid or seeking false security where it cannot be found.

…and I may blog some quotes/reflections from it…