Catching the wind

malvern birdIt’s been a long time since I blogged, but a couple of weekends back I returned to the Malverns which inspired my first post on this blog 8 years ago. It was a glorious sunny day and from the top I observed many birds hovering and gliding on the fairly brisk wind, at times almost motionless above me. It made me think of how the wind isn’t just something to fight and hide away from, but that if we face the right direction and reach out, maybe we can soar.

I was reminded of a favourite passage in Isaiah 40:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah‬ ‭40:28-31‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

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I think the birds I saw at the Malverns were kites and kestrels, but over the summer I did see plenty of bald eagles in the area around Tofino on Vancouver Island. I managed to catch a few pictures there and back in Vancouver (see below) but for truly great pictures check out some of the amazing work of the Tofino photographer we met on our travels.

eagle-2.jpg        eagle 3        eagle 4 Some of the eagles there tend to stay near the harbour, enjoying the easy pickings of cast off fish scraps but typically Canadian eagles will travel further south for the winter, flying up to 225 miles per day. This site details how if there is no wind, eagles can’t soar but will just stay put or travel locally.

seabirds crySome versions of the Isaiah passage talk about waiting on the Lord to renew our strength. Perhaps after a long journey the birds will need to rest, feed and renew their strength but they also need to wait until the wind is right to travel any significant distance. On my way back down from Worcestershire Beacon I stopped in to the Malvern Book Cooperative and bought a copy of Adam Nicolson’s wonderful book, The Seabird’s Cry. The first chapter after the introduction focuses on the fulmar, white and grey dove-like birds found in the Hebrides. Nicolson quotes James Fisher who studied fulmars for many years:

Rough weather is as necessary to the fulmar as the Trade Winds were to the human conquest of the New World. Rough weather is the fulmar’s passport, its transport to the mid-ocean.  (p30)

Scientists from Aberdeen fitted GPS loggers to 22 fulmar birds in 2012, and Nicolson describes how they followed the journey of one bird (identified as 1568) in particular amazement. Once his partner returned to look after their egg, 1568 flew out to sea but waited two days afloat on the ocean near Orkney. When the winds blew he travelled north west for eleven hours up to the channel between Shetland and the Faeroes where he fed on the rich plankton there, before surprising the scientists by picking up new winds further west south west and flying a thousand miles in fifty five hours to the Mid Atlantic Ridge, two thirds of the way to Canada. This even richer fishing ground was his banquet for three days before he headed home via south west Ireland and arrived back at his nest after travelling nearly 3900 miles in sixteen days.

Nicolson writes:

If it were calm and the bird had to flap its wings to move all day… they would have to expend 2000 calories, thirteen times what they would consume sitting or sleeping or doing nothing. As the wind increases, life becomes more viable so that when it is blowing at about 20 miles an hour… they can glide most of the time… but when the wind notches up a little further, to about 25 miles an hour, or Force 5 to 6, flying costs them nothing. It is the magic horizon. In those winds, fulmars almost never beat their wings at all, but drink in the energy they need from the wind around them. That, and more, was the wind on which 1568 drove more than halfway to Canada. (p35-6)

I tried to share some of this in church this morning, but what strikes me most now is the futility of flapping away in our own strength when we can wait for the wind to soar. Bethel Music have a powerful song called Catch The Wind which includes some of these ideas. But the song that came to mind when I was finding the title for this blog was the old Donovan track which seems much less hopeful about finding the love he is looking for, and how trying to catch the wind (and keep it captured) is a metaphor for trying to pin down some flighty lover.

My friend who was leading worship this morning picked up the ideas about how jumping off a cliff to start flying is pretty scary. Even trying to wait for the wind, we never quite know if we’re going to soar for ages or whether the wind may drop and we will simply glide down. As I contemplate venturing back into dating I can’t know whether a bit of flapping will lead me back to the ocean with a bit of a splash or whether I might catch a current more like soaring. But if I never leave the cliff, I’ll never know.

And with God, sometimes we soar more than others, but we can trust the way He has made us. If we feel like we’re just flapping and getting nowhere, maybe it’s better to rest, feed and wait for the wind. But when that wind comes, we still have the choice to sit in our nests, wings tightly wrapped around us and going nowhere. Or we can soar on eagle’s wings.

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Being a tree

“I want to be, a tree” said the man on the Prudential advert back in 1989.  A few years earlier Tim Pope made a cult video to his song of the same title, in between producing videos for The Cure.  Pretending to be a tree is such a drama class cliché that when I wrote my promotional material for my dramatherapy service, I emphatically stated that this was not required. As a concession I added that it could be arranged by special request.

The blessed but rather late arrival of Spring this year means that I have been paying more attention to the trees around me. I always enjoy a beautiful cherry tree in blossom, and the lush green fresh leaves definitely brighten up my journeys to and from work. I took some pictures for sermon illustrations as my topic the weekend before last drew in lots of idea about trees.

I started with the notion of trees in distress, and talked about Alexandre Ponomarenko and his team of researchers in Grenoble University who have been listening to trees. Ultrasonic microphones pick up the sound of xylem breakage in trees which are stressed by drought and struggling to draw up the water they need. The team could then provide emergency watering.

The distress theme was a key one in my passage, Psalm 55 which has David in anguish, wishing he had the wings of a dove so he could fly away. After talking about how God can cope with our difficult emotions, and how expressing pain can help, I then looked into the way David prays – he calls out to God for help. He says God will sustain us and that he will never let the righteous be shaken (verse 22). Some versions of the Bible use the word ‘moved’ rather than ‘shaken’, and I talked about maybe how like a tree, we may be shaken by the wind but are not moved because of our strong sustaining roots.

I was encouraged that God really was speaking about this to us because earlier in the service, before I preached, a friend of mine who is nearly nine had shared a few verses from Psalm 1:

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”  Psalm‬ ‭1:1-3‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

It sounds like God wants us to be like a tree, drawing ongoing refreshment from his word and presence and bearing fruit. He never runs dry– as we’d been reminded in one of the songs that had been led by my housemate during our time of worship that morning. Part of the way we bear fruit is by praying and seeing God answer. Jesus picks up some of these ideas when he says in John 15:

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  ‭‭John‬ ‭15:7-8‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

I was telling some friends about a recent more mundane answer to prayer, when I wanted to make guacamole. Please Lord, I prayed, let there be some just ripe avocados in the reduced section of Co-op, and there were. Exactly what I needed. It makes me think I should raise my sights a bit higher and pray for more major things, but actually praying for small things is also good (see Pete Greig’s “Nice tree, Lord” story in this first Prayer Course video 9:14-10:24)

Prayer trees have been popular in various prayer rooms and chaplaincies around the world (see these in Sandwell hospitals overseen by Rev Ann Stevenson). People visiting the hospital are invited to write prayers for loved ones on leaves which are attached to the tree, reminding me of the verse in Revelation:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:1-2‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Perhaps I should be praying more for healing than for avocados…

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Hearing from Huldah

Maybe you think Huldah sounds like the latest Avengers villain, or a mysterious place in the Middle East which is probably subject to ceaseless violence but somehow undeserving of media attention. Chances are that you haven’t heard of Huldah as a significant Bible character because until recently I had somehow completely overlooked this Old Testament prophet who was very influential in the time of the King Josiah. Josiah, you may remember, became King at the age of eight, and has certainly been the subject of some Bible teaching I recall even for children. But Huldah I fear has been sidelined, not just because of the relative obscurity of the passages in 2 Chronicles and 2 Kings, but because she was a woman.

I knew about Queen Esther and the elderly prophet Anna who announced Jesus as the redemption of Israel, and have been talking more recently with friends about the example of Deborah who was one of the early Judges of Israel. Depending on someone’s church tradition they may be quite used to having women preaching, but I was reminded recently by one more conservative friend that there are still people who believe that women shouldn’t preach, lead or have any authority over men. I quite liked the meme I saw on Facebook really that stated that “Without women preachers, we would have no knowledge of the resurrection”. I’m not sure this is totally true, but I do like the reminder that the first people to see the resurrected Jesus and spread the word were Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, even though they weren’t believed.

I had the conversation with this conservative guy who seemed to think that women preachers were very much a second choice, only really acceptable when no men are available. I tried to be reasonable about it and asked what he thought about Deborah but he hadn’t heard of her so the conversation got a bit difficult. In truth I took it a bit personally as I had been due to be preaching that Sunday but it had been snowed off. But the night before I preached instead on Palm Sunday my scheduled Bible reading included 2 Chronicles 34 which covers the early life of King Josiah.

He began seeking God at a young age and got rid of many altars to idols as well as repairing the temple. When the priest Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law, the secretary Shaphan took it to the King. Shaphan read it aloud and King Josiah was distraught at how far they had strayed from the Law. He ordered Hilkiah and Shaphan and three others to go and inquire of the Lord for him, to find out what the consequences would be and what they should do next, and all five men trooped out to speak to the prophet Huldah who is recorded as being the wife of Shallum whose grandfather was keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in the New Quarter of Jerusalem, which sounds quite trendy to me.

She speaks in a way that sounds unintimidated by the King, but with clear authority from God. She speaks of coming disaster on the people of Judah because of their disobedience, but she also knows that Josiah has had a responsive heart and humbled himself before God. She declares how God has heard him and would gather him to be buried in peace before the disaster happened. We go on to hear how Josiah continues to return to God’s ways, reinstalling the priests in the temple and celebrating the Passover in accordance with God’s directions as had not been done since the days of Samuel. Only after Josiah dies is Judah attacked by the kings of Egypt and Babylon, with all of them and Jerusalem eventually falling to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

The same account appears in 2 Kings 22, but otherwise the Bible doesn’t mention Huldah further. I guess the church fathers didn’t make much of her contribution as they were happy to go with the apparently straightforward direction from Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 that women should be silent in church. I did hear someone recently argue that the translation of silent should be ‘peaceable’, which gives a very different impression. I’m not sure that the rest of the passage bears this out, but I quite like how the new NIV verse 39 encourages both brothers and sisters to be eager to prophesy. Some have argued that prophesying is different to preaching, but the example of Huldah seems to have authority and direction as well as prophetic gifting.

The other passage from 1 Corinthians which seems particularly pertinent is a couple of chapters earlier, when Paul is encouraging the brothers and sisters to be aware that there are people with a wide range of gifts and that all are needed for the church body to be built up. While I have not received very much training in the area of preaching, I do feel it is an area which uses some of the gifts God has given me. I do get paid to teach others in my day job, in a way that would probably have been unheard of for a woman in Bible times. I would generally make the point that better education of women and more opportunities have meant that there are more fantastic women preaching than ever before. I was delighted to hear that the new Bishop of London is a woman and imagine that the Church of England would now struggle to function without women priests, as I heard a feature suggesting that robot priests might be a solution for some rural parishes, especially at busy times like Easter. (30 mins in). While I am impressed by the work of fellow academics at the University of Sheffield, the thought that some people might rather receive communion from a robot than a woman seems utterly preposterous.

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Re-viewing the Oscars

The weather-effects team here seem to have put in an Oscar-worthy performance, perhaps having heard that I was supposed to be preaching on the Christmas story.  Sadly they over-did it a bit, meaning church was actually snowed off and I am stuck inside.  I’m considering heading out a bit later to the cinema and an afternoon service, but actually there’s not much I’m keen to see in the post-Awards season slump.  But a friend did encourage me to blog a bit more about films, which I have not done lately for some reason.  I have seen some good films in the past year so a round-up seems appropriate – not least to kick-start the decision making when I head to friends who have Netflix over the Easter break.

My film of the year was probably Get Out (all film links go to trailers) – an unusual choice of genre for me as I very rarely watch anything even vaguely resembling horror.  I have described this as a horror film for people who don’t like horror films.  The ingredients are there, including some gruesome moments and a few effective jump-scares, but mostly it’s layered and clever and deep and twisty, and offers a fascinating or perhaps chilling depiction of apparently liberal racism.  Daniel Kaluuya performs brilliantly in the lead role which was deservedly Oscar-nominated.  I also enjoyed seeing Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as his girlfriend’s parents.  It’s great seeing actors I remember fondly from The West Wing, and Allison Janney will get a mention further on.  Kaluuya gave another powerful performance recently in Black Panther which I’m guessing most people will have seen, and I was pleased for him as he picked up the EE Rising Star award at the BAFTAs.  Get Out was nominated as best film at the Oscars, which was an impressive achievement, but the originality of the screenplay was what won writer and director Jordan Peele an Oscar.  Well-deserved.

Best film of course went to The Shape of Water, which I also enjoyed.  It was a beautifully made film and as a fantasy, a rare genre choice for the top award.  It brought together some cracking performances, a strangely attractive aquatic man and a lovely old-screen vibe which meant that even with some more sexual scenes, watching it with my parents was not too embarrassing.  I think we all enjoyed it although it was quirky.  It felt very original, although I was intrigued to hear that many elements of the story had appeared in the 1969 play by Paul Zindel, ‘Let Me Hear You Whisper’.  Perhaps these allegations reduced the chances of Del Toro’s film winning best original screenplay.

Also missing out on best original screenplay were Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, whose own true life coma-complicated-courtship story The Big Sick was another film which really made me think this year.  This was also quirky, with Nanjiani playing himself as more selfish and immature than perhaps an independent actor might have done.  I think it works as a rom-com and is funny, but it also says things about being in an unbalanced relationship which resonated a lot for me at the time.  It didn’t leave me feeling particularly good, but it’s closer to a feel-good movie than most of the Oscar contenders this year.  After Hidden Figures and perhaps La-la Land last year, I’m struggling to think of a corresponding film which I could unequivocally recommend to most people as enjoyable and teenager/parent-friendly.

Most of the other films I would rate this year are more serious and even grim in places.  I thought Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was fantastic (strong language even in the trailer) and I really enjoyed the performances from Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson.  They portray characters who are messy and full of contradictions, but the film clips along at a snappy pace with plenty of plot-development which is sometimes missing from more arty films.  I also enjoyed The Post, particularly for the writing from Liz Hannah and Josh Singer.  It took a while to get going, but the second half and Meryl Streep leading a newspaper in taking risks to expose government cover-up seemed like an important tale for our time.  I also loved the dialogue in Molly’s Game, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin.  He and Josh Singer had plenty of practice writing strong and nuanced female characters in the West Wing, most notably C.J. Cregg played by Allison Janney.

Janney picked up the Oscar for best-supporting actress for her powerfully unpleasant portrayal of Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona Golden in I, Tonya.  It’s not a nice film, but she and Margot Robbie who played Tonya both did excellent work.  I’d also praise the team who managed to edit footage of skilled skaters, stunt doubles and archive material together with the new performances so seamlessly.  I probably preferred the mother-daughter dynamic in Lady Bird, another great film which missed out on any Oscars thanks to Janney, McDormand, Del Toro and Peele.  This would be a stronger recommendation for families with older teens although it was appropriately rated 15.  Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this wonderful coming-of-age story becoming amazingly the first woman to be nominated as best director for her debut film, and only the fifth woman to be nominated in this category ever.  She’s certainly one to watch.

I was also a bit sorry that Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver didn’t win one of the sound/editing Oscars as I thought the syncing of soundtrack and action in this entertaining film deserved more of the love it got from the BAFTAs when it received the award for Best Editing.  I suppose it glamourises crime and car chases but for me it combined the best of films like Fast and Furious with the musicality of La-La Land and the coolness of heist movies like Ocean’s 11.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the new team do with a predominantly female cast Ocean’s 8 – Soderbergh and Clooney are producing this one rather than directing or starring in it.  The poster is fab but it could go either way.

Most of the films I haven’t mentioned yet are more male-dominated.  I thought Gary Oldman’s best actor Oscar for his performance as Churchill in The Darkest Hour was well-earned by him and the make-up team.  I didn’t love the film although it made a strong case for the power of a great speech.  I probably preferred Dunkirk as a Second World War film from a few different angles and was pleased it got some nominations and three sound/editing Oscars although this did mean Baby Driver missed out.  Daniel Day-Lewis gave another unsettling but impressive portrayal of dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread, although the film picked up its only Oscar for costume design for some truly fabulous frocks.

One film I was disappointed to miss (I think I was in Germany) was Call Me By Your Name, the one Best film nominee I am still yet to see.  Timothy Chalamet made an impression in Lady Bird, and missed out on the Best newcomer BAFTA to Daniel Kaluuya.  I’m interested to see how far it follows Moonlight in bringing a more ordinary story of gay characters to a more mainstream audience, although quite how mainstream it went seems questionable as it was the one film I couldn’t see being repeated in my local multiplex around the awards season.

Last year I did manage to see all the Oscar nominated best films but didn’t actually see Moonlight before it had won the Oscar (once they sorted out the La-La Land fiasco).  I’m hoping this run down might have given you ideas of something you might want to watch, or reminded you of something you might watch again.  If it serves as some suggestions for Easter break Netflix then I wouldn’t mind seeing most of them again.  Do leave me a comment if you think I’ve missed out any fab films from this last year…

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Praying and watching

The snowdrops in my garden were in full bloom before I had even noticed. Last year, after my Mum had planted them I was watching much more carefully – noticing the tiny shoots as first signs of spring after the winter. This year we had much more snow – a thick blanket covering the bulbs entirely but there was still growth happening underground and the snowdrops seem very healthy.

Chris Kilby talked about watching in a garden for signs of growth in his days as an experimental gardener – I think with radishes in particular. He used it as an example in chapter four of his book ‘Equipped’ which aims to be a practical book encouraging Christians to talk to others about their faith. Chapter four is about prayer and starts with the reminder to talk to Jesus about your neighbours before you talk to your neighbours about Jesus. I was leading our study looking at chapter four this week, and was particularly struck by the verse in Colossians 4 which says:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4 v 2)

The more famous verse in the Bible is perhaps where Jesus asks Peter, James and John to watch and pray (Matthew 26 v 41), but the point we discussed on Wednesday was how if we pray about something, then we care about it more, and we watch out for things happening, and then we pray more, in a kind of cycle.

Last month I was at a worship and prayer meeting when we got onto the theme of praying for freedom for people in different areas of their lives. I felt quite strongly that another related thing we could pray about would be for release for people caught up in modern day slavery and human trafficking. I suggested it as a possibility to the meeting leader and he agreed that would be one direction we could go but he was also weighing other words and possibilities. I didn’t mind too much but did feel quite strongly that I should personally be praying on that topic.

I prayed with a fervency that rarely comes to me. I prayed about people caught up in slavery around the world and in Birmingham. I prayed for police and others investigating human trafficking, that their operations would be successful and that people would be freed. I prayed for changes of heart in the people guarding them. I prayed that neighbours and local people would notice things that weren’t right and would report them. I prayed for breakthrough and justice. I prayed for restoration and wholeness. And I ended up feeling strongly like God was going to do something, and that I should watch the news.

This had been on Tuesday evening, and on Friday morning this story was reported in local and national news.  On the Thursday, after a coordinated operation involving multiple agencies, five people in Birmingham had been rescued from modern slavery and thirteen people had been arrested. Some of the roads mentioned are local roads I know well.

How can I respond to something like this, except to want to pray more? If I pray for someone from the safety of a local church, and people are set free from actual slavery – it doesn’t feel like coincidence. If I pray for someone to be healed and they experience actual physical breakthrough – a reduction in pain or increased movement or a noticeable lightness, why am I not praying for people to be healed all the time? In fact, even when people I prayed for have not been healed, I have been surprised by how positively they have responded in appreciating the care I have shown or my willingness to do something because of my faith. But mostly I have found that when I have spent some time in praying and worshipping God, and then seek to follow his prompting, God does something.

I talked before about Jordan Seng’s 4 key points in his equation of moving in more of God’s miraculous power to heal or deliver: Obedience + Faith + Gifting + Consecration = Power. I think I’ve been talking about obedience (in the listening and seeking to follow God’s prompting) and consecration (taking time to worship and pray, and fasting goes here too, if Lent is something you are observing at the moment). Mainly in Lent I have decided to pray more rather than doing anything else less – so please let me know how I can pray for you. And then watch and see the signs of God at work.

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Multitasking in church

I’m a bit concerned that this post will read like I’m saying ‘look at me, I’m amazing’ or ‘look at me, I’m an idiot’ depending on your perspective. I’m going to do my best to avoid both and hope that some of my readers will probably relate to what I’m saying. I think part of the issue is being in a small church and being someone who does not have those other classic multitasking roles like parenting or being a carer or holding several jobs.
So here’s the run down, currently at my main church I:new guitar

  • Lead worship about once a month (play guitar and sing… and pray and choose the songs, have a practice with the singer midweek, put the words on the laptop, arrive early and set up the PA and then set down the PA at the end, mostly with some help, thankfully).
  • Preach about once a month (this has increased recently as our church leader is unwell… there’s a fair bit of preparation involved here too).IMG_0141
  • Am a trustee… our meetings aren’t that frequent but it does feel like quite a responsibility.
  • Am the Child Protection Coordinator… I have some background in this area so I took a lead in rewriting our policies and doing some training. Most weeks there isn’t much call on this role but occasionally it requires some important action.
  • Oversee finance… I’m not officially the treasurer but neither is anyone else. I do work with someone else who does the img_0865-1week to week finance admin thankfully.
  • Co-lead a house group… My friend and co-leader does more of the organisation and work at the moment I’d say, but I do go most weeks and try to say wise and helpful things from time to time.

I’ve just come off the main set-up rota as I always seemed to be doing something else at the same time.  I am grateful that there isn’t the expectation (as there is in some churches) that the same people lead worship or preach every week.  I haven’t done kidswork in many years although I feel like I should be offering to do something more to support the youth. It all seems a bit crazy, particularly alongside a full-time job although I am grateful that my job has fluctuating busy times and less busy times. Sadly I am currently in a busy time which is likely to last until late May although even now, I know my job is much less pressured than many.  Really busy people probably don’t spend Saturday afternoon blogging…

juggler cropI did some searching on the idea of multitasking in church and the consensus seems to be not to do it. People seem to think that you perform much better if you focus on one main ministry. I can see the wisdom in this, and how if top quality were required I know I could improve my guitar playing and singing if I focused a lot more time on that, or my preaching if I focused a lot more time on that. One of the things I really like about my church is that it feels more like family than any kind of performance, and that people are on my side and I think looking for ‘good-enough‘ rather than excellence. If my worship and preaching point to God, and are accessible to most people, then I don’t think people mind if I stumble from time to time over chords or words. I know other churches have more of a focus on excellence but I don’t think that’s particularly scriptural or realistic in a small church. It’s good to do things whole-heartedly, but I like a church meeting where anyone can join in, contribute and feel welcomed rather than one which feels slick and where people up the front seem super-human.

I think the idea of church as family means I help out more, particularly in times like now when others are incapacitated. Family seems like the place where everyone should get stuck in and do some regular chores as well as extra things when needed. I alluded earlier to the multitasking in parenting, and I know I could find many blogs out there listing the multiple roles played by Mums, and increasingly Dads too, often alongside full time jobs. HowIMG_2432ever busy I might think I am with church responsibilities, I still manage to have one lie-in most weekends, and I manage to go to the cinema a lot. I think most parents would be a bit envious of the amount of time I have to myself. I even manage to go to another church some Sunday afternoons (although emphatically as a punter, with the luxury of focusing on God rather than any jobs I have to do). This feels restorative, not an added pressure.

I know I need to be needed, and I really appreciate positive and thoughtful feedback from others. Interestingly this comes most often when I preach rather than any of the other roles. Perhaps I have more gifting in this area, or perhaps people are more in the habit of thanking a preacher. I know there is a danger in feeling good about myself in terms of what I do, and how much I serve rather than seeing my value in how God sees me. I want to believe that if I were suddenly bed-bound, unable to do anything much except pray, that God would still see me as just as precious. I know I would struggle with being so restricted, and I should probably pray more for the people I know in something more like this situation.

IfAmnesty Candle I read stories of missionaries or others in full-time Christian ministry, they seem to be doing so much more. When your whole life is a struggle and a witness, when you face significant opposition from authorities or spiritual attack – I guess then I realise how little I have to complain about. In most ways my life is so comfortable – I know I could be doing and sacrificing more.

But I also know about burnout – in work and Christian circles. I guess I’m writing this to help myself figure out what is sustainable. If a few different areas of church life suddenly got more stressful, I think I would find it hard to keep all my current plates spinning. I wonder how some tasks could be shared more, and whether there are other people who would love to have more responsibility in certain areas. My impression is that we are a bit short-handed everywhere, and that some people who might like to do more or clearly have gifting and talents have just too much else going on in their lives or various limiting health conditions.

If my example is Jesus, he clearly served his Father in a wide range of ways although hepan IMG_3150 tended to ask others to do the hospitality bit. He managed to go to parties and dinners, and took regular time off by himself to pray. The gospels don’t record “and then Jesus went off on a mini break to play crazy golf with his friends” or “then Jesus booked a holiday to Canada to admire the scenery and animals his Father had made”. One could argue that his main ministry on earth only continued at such a pace for three years…

I have booked a holiday (roll on June!) and I have quit the set-up rota, and I am trying to be mindful of what I am doing and why. I know my recent ‘stepping-up’ has been noticed and appreciated, and I am going to be involved in more discussions about the way forward and who is doing what. I am seeking wisdom on all this, so please do offer any helpful advice or things that have helped you/ your church, or pray for me/ us. Thanks.

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Accounting for love

I guess blogging about an ongoing relationship is complicated because the stories aren’t just yours, they also belong to someone else you care about. Perhaps it also feels risky to be putting something down as a record when it still feels very early days in the relationship, not wanting to jinx anything or be overly effusive or sickening or naive. For whatever combination of reasons I didn’t blog much last year, even though I was delighted to finally not be single, especially as a somewhat significant birthday came and went. Just as I didn’t shout about the relationship starting, not online anyway, I also didn’t shout about it ending but it’s over now. And Roxette, for my part at least, it must have been love.

Loving someone when you’re pretty sure they don’t love you isn’t to be recommended, but I don’t seem to be wired in a way that lets me hold back until my head and heart agree on something. I should probably be grateful that the object of my affection was a gentleman, and kind, and not someone to take advantage. Still, I got my hopes up and then was very disappointed. And some of you won’t be surprised to hear that those feelings don’t just go away. Someone told me it takes as long to fall out of love with someone as it did to fall for them in the first place.

The thought that struck me, and that provoked this blog and the title in particular, was that I had been focusing a lot on a particular line of a balance sheet. In looking at how much love was coming into my life from one specific direction, and how unbalanced my outgoings in that particular area, I was losing the bigger picture. Accounting for love in my life there is a massive, consistent deposit elsewhere in the chart which totally eclipses anything that any human can offer.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us

How high and wide and deep and long is the Father’s love for us

As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high is the measure of your great love

If I can truly grasp how loved I am by God, then any other balances, how much specific people, friends, family love me or whether I spend more time and energy loving them becomes pretty irrelevant. If I can truly receive that love he has for me, then the question only remains, how to spend it.

Posted in love, perspective, relationships | 3 Comments