Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Fragile Life

I'm not a big fan of football, but I do tend to watch Football Focus on a Saturday while we have lunch. Maybe it's tradition, maybe it's because I like sport and it was always the introduction to Grandstand for many years.

I watched it last Saturday.

If you did, then you too will have listened to Gary Speed talk about football. Like me you would never have thought that the following day you would wake up to the news that he had apparently decided to end his life. I sat stunned. Was there anything he said, any body language that gave away any sign that this was about to happen? No. Not that I saw. One rarely does in these circumstances.

I'm not about to pontificate about suicide and faith. There's no need. We do not sit in judgement on anyone who chooses when and how to die. Life may be precious, but God is a God of grace and mercy. If anyone understands the depth of human emotions and how we respond to them, then surely our creator does.

No, for me it's the numbness one feels when hearing such news, even when you never knew the person. I've only been involved with the suicide of one person. After a long illness, they decided that they had finally reached the point where they could no longer face the daily struggle.  But the numbness doesn't only arise from the sense of tragedy and loss, but also from the realisation that life is so very fragile.

We are a complex arrangement of emotions and feelings. We live in a fallen world that besets us with our own failures and insecurities. A world that constantly seems to push us to breaking point with deadlines and expectations. It is, to me, no wonder that for some the pressure becomes unbearable and that they choose to bring it to a premature end.

And what about faith? My faith doesn't protect me from such feelings, from the pressures. There are times when the hope it offers seems a very long way from the reality in which I find myself. Truth be told, sometimes my faith makes it even harder. Because of my faith I choose not to say what I really want to say or do what I think I really want to do. Because I choose to seek to be obedient to the call and example of Jesus there are times when the pressure makes me wonder if my heart isn't going to explode as I bear the weight of all that see and feel.

My life is fragile too.

The one thing I do know is this: my fragile life is in God's hands.

A friend and I were talking many years ago about Christians and suicide. For many Christians suicide is unforgivable, but in the end I'm not so sure. Perhaps we ought to think more about grace than judgement. Perhaps God's response to the person who chooses to end their life prematurely is simply to say, "You're early, but you're still welcome."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dealing with uncertainty

How do you approach uncertainty? I think my preferred approach might be to hide inside a wardrobe until its all sorted itself out! I think part of the problem with uncertainty is that it brings with it a sense of powerlessness. Some of rise to the challenge and set about determining our own destiny. And that's okay, maybe even for followers of Jesus it's okay to take some control and plan and determine what to do next. But where does faith fit?

The problem with an uncertain future, one you cannot describe in detail backed up by evidence, is that no matter what your present looks like, you are about to swap something you know for something quite unknown. To others it might look very exciting, but they aren't the ones who will have to live with he consequences of the decisions you make and the outcomes you experience.

Our future is uncertain. We are making plans, but we'd be foolish to suggest that we are certain in any way about the absolute rightness of the choices we're making. Maybe this is where faith steps in and plays its hand.

I guess you might say that we are trying to make open choices and not to box God into a corner where he has to do what we want in order for our faith to be satisfied. It's an exercise in disciplined thinking and faithful obedience.

While the wardrobe offers a safe place to hide, and maybe even the possibility of another world (think Narnia at this point), it's not going to much of a walk of faith. More a crouching insecurity, a paralysis of faith, a timidity of heart. So I'll leave the wardrobe to be a place to store clothes and not a place to wait for the future to write itself.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Doing what?

As I promised, here's the outline plan for the future such as it is. The more I talk about this idea, the more it seems to become real, but it remains a long off right now.

We have begun to look at houses not too far from where we are at the moment. We've made friends with some folk beyond church and in all honesty I don't want to give up those friendships and start all over again in yet another new place. I'm tired of doing that. When you move on from a place everyone talks about staying in touch, but few rarely do. Life is busy for us all, and although we can pick up the 'phone, send an email or even a letter, we don't. I don't!

So, living somewhere with easy access to Canary Wharf will be good for Anne's commute. But what am I gong to spend my time doing? I could spiritualise this and get all holy about it, but the bottom line is that I could make a case for prayer and other valuable spiritual pursuits as priorities, but I also need to be doing something that contributes to our household income. So I've decided to explore becoming a Sports Massage Therapist. It will take me a year to train, but while I'm training I will be doing some practice (any willing volunteer clients?). There are therapy logs and case studies to do. The course is one day a fortnight over about 11 months.

At the same time I'm going to do a short course on nutrition and maybe have a look at some life coaching stuff. In my ideal world this will provide me with opportunities to work flexible hours and leave sufficient time to explore how to do church organically and simply. This is a true expression of bi-vocational ministry. It's not full-time ministry on the cheap for the church that cannot afford it, but ministry done in partnership with others who all bring their gifts to the table and share fully the responsibility for leadership.

So there it is in the proverbial nutshell. A new adventure in a new area of skills with a new focus but the same heart to serve God. Hopefully that will never fade away. Perhaps it might even be renewed as the pressure and expectations of ministry fall away.

Monday, November 21, 2011

At the O2

Not the best photo in the world, but it wasn't easy to take pictures! This is the view at the O2. That's Andy Murray to the right, prowling around the court on his way to losing to David Ferrer this afternoon.

We saw a good game of doubles first up and then the singles. We had about five minutes between the two matches, so no real time to do much except stretch and sit down again.

After the Murray match there was a presentation to Roger Federer of the fair play award and the fan's favourite player award.

It was certainly a very good venue for tennis. I wouldn't have minded trying the court, it looked like a very nice surface to play on! Had to settle for the all-weather courts back home in the evening where I won my mens doubles match 6-2, 6-4!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Adventure?

It is now public knowledge that Anne and I will leaving our current church setting in a few weeks time. It's been a hard decision to make in many ways, but the truth is it was probably the only decision to make. I'm not about to dissect what has been happening that has brought us to this point. It's enough to say that things haven't really worked and it's time to recognise that.

The question is: What next?

The answer is: We don't know!

What we do know is that it's unlikely that we will be going to another church with me as the minister. We're not leaving the church or rejecting the church or losing our faith or anything of the like. God has, or at least I think he has, been challenging us both about the nature and expression of what it means to be the church. We've tried to explore this in an established church seeing, but it's become increasingly difficult to do so.

So, before we get too old, it's an opportunity to explore simpler, more organic ways of being church. I'm going to retrain in order to become self-financing if possible, and we're going to look to settle into a community and put down some roots.

This post is by way of introducing the plan, such as it is, and to open the way for me to share thoughts and conversation with others about the journey we are about to take. There is much that scares us. Finding a house, getting a mortgage, learning new skills, getting a job or starting a business/practice (I'll blog more about my ideas later), are all big things. But probably scariest of all is setting out on an uncharted journey without any maps and no familiar landmarks by which to navigate.

At the moment we feel very much alone in this, but by God's grace we will meet others who will join us on our journey, keep us company and keep us sane! As news develops I'll try to reflect on it through my blog. Please feel fee to enter the discussion through comments.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shallow answers to deep questions

There's a man on the radio proposing a simple strategy about giving up your car. He is not saying that everyone should do this, or that it is practical that everyone should. He is not saying that a car is a bad thing, an unnecessary bit of equipment that destroys the environment and a danger to life.

But you'd think he had from some of the immediate responses. "Try living in rural West Wales without a car," was one text. "How do you go shopping with a family?" was one question asked. I grew up in a village with a limited bus service. We survived and we didn't even have our own dedicated telephone line. Shopping trips were made by bus and were a day out not a daily excursion.

My point is this: how easily do we get angry and upset with an idea primarily because we fail to engage with the idea beyond a very superficial level. We think we understand way before we actually understand. We open our mouths before our brains have done any useful listening and reflecting.

The lesson is simple. We must slow down, and listen more than we speak. It's always easier to produce a knee-jerk response to any question. And that is never more true than in deepening our discipleship. There are no shortcuts to a deeper walk with God.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Been away

So we've been away for a short break in Portugal. All very nice. Played tennis, walked around the marina, sat in coffee shops talking about the future and most importunely on a holiday like this... picking out a shortlist of villas and apartments to buy! If only we had the money!

That'a the thing about holidays, you can dream about what it might be like to live in a place without actually doing it. I don't know if we'd really want a place on the Algarve or in Spain or somewhere similar. Truth be told, I could list a whole lot of places I'd like to spend my unlikely early retirement years.

Anyway, let's not get all melancholy about it. A week away was certainly what we needed, and it came at just the right time. Now we're back we need to begin the process of focussing on the shape of our future. Before we left we'd made the decision with the church to step down from leadership. We will finish in December in terms of all the public stuff and then we will have several months to sort out where to live and what to do next. At this point we are not thinking about another pastoral role in an established church setting.

Quite what shape the future will take is uncertain, but I'm looking at retraining in order to be financially independent, which in turn might enable us to explore new ways of being church that doesn't require starting with an established congregation meeting on a Sunday morning to sing songs and listen to a monologue. But things are far from clear at this moment in time.

Now we are back, and now it's publicly known that we are leaving our current setting, I can blog a bit more about what's been on my heart and where that might take us. We are not giving up on church, and we are not giving up on ministry. We're just stepping out of what we've been doing for the past 20 years and into a new adventure.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Protesting Church?

It's both fascinating and sad to watch the story unfold at St Paul's. Sad because of the distraction form the issues raised outside the building because of the events inside the building. and there's the sign that keeps popping up on the news bulletins: "What would Jesus do?"

What would Jesus do? Would he join the protesters outside in their campaign, would he sit inside the building teaching those inside about the implications of what is happening outside? What would he do?

Would he provide Latte's and Panninis for the gathered crowd? would make enigmatic comments about paying tax, taking responsibility and the dangers of increasing pay gaps and inequity in the workplace?

I don't know.

Maybe the only thing we might be able to say with any certainty is that he probably wouldn't be looking to the legal system to address the issues.