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.

New Year prayer

We are in the middle of January; can it still be new year?

I think, for the purposes of this blog it can be:-

Give me, O Lord,
A calm soul and a clear head,
A broad mind and a generous spirit.

Give me,
A hunger for justice and a thirst for peace,
A passion for truth and a love of mercy.

Give me,
A painter’s eye and a poet’s tongue,
A saint’s patience and a prophet’s hope.

Give me,
A sage’s wisdom and a fool’s delight,
A pilgrim’s purpose and an angel’s content.

Give me,
A warm heart and a listening ear,
My true voice and a gentle touch.

Stephen Cherry: Barefoot Ways (SPCK 2015)

Yo: here’s to a great adventure in 2016!

Yuck…..

I saw a lot of this year around New Year: memes along the lines of ‘seize the day’, ‘take a new step’ ‘going places in 2016’ etc etc.

I confess: I have used some of those memes- it is good to find a quote that crystallizes a feeling and gives hope. I personally think it is good to recast your life in terms of story/journey and to be open to new things.

However, among some of the quotes there is an element of forced dynamism: how do these statements about ‘seizing the day’ apply if you are facing the illness or death of someone close to you (or your own) ,you face redundancy with no real prospects, you are simply ageing and declining or any of the other issues that can pull the ground from under your feet?

The best you can do in many of those situations is hold on, or let someone hold you and wait. Whilst you can attempt to see things differently you are not in control of what is happening to you. I’m wondering then if the more gung ho quotes are really hiding/denying a lot of fear.

Ultimately, whilst we can do a lot, we are powerless and dependent. Acknowledging that and living with it can bring more strength than turning the music up to 11 and dispensing supercharged bromide.

 

In praise of messing around.

The days that happen between Christmas and New Year are golden days: time seems to blur into a kind of eternal present. It is acceptable to do nothing and even forget what day it is.

I saw a few posts at the end of that time that talked approvingly of taking decorations and trees down and getting the house ‘straight’ or getting back into a welcome routine.

On one level I understood them, but mostly I wailed ‘Noooooo!’ There is something wonderful about losing routine, stopping, feasting and just not getting things done.

Let go sometimes, people…..

Things I learned from 2015:5

Mortality.

My youngest son is found of singing the refrain from a song off the last Sufjan Stevens album. The refrain is simply ‘We’re all going to die’.

However you pretend and dress it up it is true. In one sense Camus was right: the only decision someone faces is whether or not to commit suicide- after that all other decisions follow. Or as The Proclaimers put it:-

‘This life that I’ve been living,

Since the day I first drew breath,

Has been my way of forgetting,

I’m on my journey towards my death’.

I am nearly 50. Given my lifestyle, health etc etc, I have a reasonable expectation of at least another 30 years, but it could end tomorrow.

Yes: you can ‘seize the day’ or any other motivational slogan you chose to use (some have value), but there are times when you just have to be silent and be aware of this fact: I will end.

Maybe it is to do with change, death of a family member, illness of others, an awareness that my oldest son is now taller than me or my youngest has left the world of primary school which was a ‘home’ for us for 10 years, maybe it is a ‘0’ fast approaching; I don’t know.

I do know that this year has made me more aware of this (it seems to be a factor with friends of a similar age) and that it is something that I will carry into this new year. It could just be something for sober reflection or the catalyst for further invention: I don’t yet know the destination.

Some people, faced with this, makes statements like they do not want to suffer fools any more- time is of the essence. I would like to suffer fools more: you are just like me- one day you will end & I’d like to know your story and not dismiss you. I am, however, determined to suffer institutional foolery far, far less…

 

Things I learned from 2015:4

I largely loved being a minister in pastoral charge of churches (although I began to have profound misgivings about denominational management) and there are things that I miss about it, without sensing that I should go back to doing it. I last preached on Feb 8th 2015, I will preach again towards the end of this month but I don’t when/if I will again.

I had met/have met some who ‘need’ to be a minister in a way that can be unhealthy: their identity cannot be separated from what they do & they feel a desire to always be in the centre.

I realise that I don’t ‘need’ to be a minister in that way any more; over this year that has been something that has really suprised me: I get to see my immediate family more, I see friends more and I hang about more. I have discovered the delicious pleasure of a ‘hardening of the oughteries.’

I don’t know if this is permanent, but just at the moment it feels lovely and wonderful. It feels healing to not be in the centre any more.

5 things I learned from 2015:3

Home is important.

The sense of belonging, being in relationships, being in a place where you are known has become really important to me.

Previously, each move to a new place has seemed exciting and fresh (although the last move- the first with children was hard) and as I changed job/role, the chance came to try something different, to move elsewhere. In the end we didn’t- we stayed in the same village where we have lived since 2004.

It was challenging: houses to rent are like hen’s teeth around here and we could have saved money by moving elsewhere. But this place felt like/feels like home and we wanted to stay, for our sake, the children’s sake (staying within the Methodist system would have meant one child moving in the middle of GCSEs) and just because… (it is lovely to have power to determine things/be free and cock a snook at the minority of stupid voices who said ‘ministers can’t live in the place where they have ministered’).

I have come to realise that one’s mental health is improved by this feeling of ‘home’ and ‘stability’, particularly when so many other things are changing. Maybe too, middle age has made me more conservative.

…but ‘Home’ is good and life giving: I need it.

5 things I learned from 2015:2

Change is good and enervating, but also very tiring…

If I could have contemplated the changes of leaving a vocation and moving to another one, becoming homeless and moving without any financial back up, children leaving primary school, father in law dying, wife’s job becoming hard etc, I would have backed away, blanched or asked that they be spaced out. I could not have envisaged them being concentrated over 3-4 months. I would have wondered if I/we could ever have coped.

Yet, by the grace of God, the love of friends and a wing and a prayer, they happened. In some senses, there is still not complete stability- there never is, but we are here. I did not believe that some of these changes could ever happen, I hoped that some of these changes would never happen… but they happened and we managed.

I never realised just how tiring they would be: change can be exhausting- I had made a tentative effort of listing 50 things I would do in the year before I was 50 and the year after and have only had the energy to begin to tackle a handful. It has made me think how glibly in my ministry I preached ‘change’.

Yet I feel alive: things I never thought possible have become possible.

5 things I learnt from 2015:1

People- most of them- are kinder than you think.

I do not deny the reality of evil and that some people will actively chose to do bad things/harm others. I have little time for theologies/philosophies that say that we will all chose the good: those who believe them must have spent most of the 20th and 21st centuries asleep or suffering from acute myopia.

Last year, I learned that most people have the capacity to be kinder than you believe them to be. Some are just like that: they  will go to incredible lengths if asked (or even unasked) and some ‘just’have the capacity to just smile/offer an an encouraging word/be there. You can’t expect everyone to behave in the same way or act like you would: appreciate them as they are.

Last year was not easy, but there were those who encouraged, helped us move house, were friendly faces, who prayed, who swore affectionately at me, who were church and those whose kindness I have long forgotten but who simply gave me/us the strength to carry on.

Thank you!

Resolutions?

I suppose the idea of resolutions is very good: I admire those who make them. I admire even more those who keep them. I don’t make them any more: although I cannot recall a time when I did.

I could go with ‘intentions’. This would be a really good intention for this year:-

When I stop seeing other things and other people primarily as contributors to my own well-being, and through the blinders of how I can obtain them or keep them, or even get rid of them, then my whole vision widens out. I begin to see these objects or people as they really are: quite separate and other from me, and pregnant with their own mystery‘.

(Margaret Silf: Inner Compass)