Tag Archives: ponderings

Random socks

Has anyone (other than me) come across a book called “Coloured Socks” which formed part of the Zebra Easy Learning and was published in 1983? Unsurprisingly it’s about socks. Regular readers may know I’m rather keen, if not mildly obsessed with (knitting) socks.

As my socks are being requested by a fair variety of people, I’ve decided to start selling them and other creations drawn from my knitting stash. Having sold a couple of pairs while at home, there was a suggestion that I brand but I need a name. The winning suggestion so far is related to the above book, but you kinda need to know the story for it to make sense so I’m curious to know whether anyone else will understand what I’m on about if I opt for ‘Benbo buns’.

Notes on my Spiritual Journey 6 – Current Job

After leaving SCM, I found myself increasingly drawn to community-focussed lay ministry. After applying to run a residential community which subsequently didn’t feel right enough (and I withdrew), I was delighted to discover a community being created on my own doorstep. Drawing from the experiences of growing the sense of community within SCM, I came to my current role and have had a very special opportunity to set up a residential Christian community. With a shared ethos, commitment to sharing in worship and a desire to serve Birmingham through volunteering, four of us now live together. In engaging with this community I continue to share in the corporate development of faith I valued from SCM and the convent. In the leadership of the group, I find myself being constantly challenged, and rewarded, in the way I am called to serve as well as manage the residents.

Some of my work time was left free to pursue projects of interest to me. This gave me the opportunity to think big and outside the box. While the initial dreams stood aside for the more functional and necessary, I found work as one of a team of volunteer chaplains to a local University. The projects which have been of particular interest in this role are in producing a prayer resource to be shared with all the churches in the city centre, regardless of doctrine or denomination. This required a partner project mapping all the relevant contacts, and in this way I have been able to get to know the central Birmingham communities in a unique and highly invaluable way. The understanding and observance of the changing life within this area affects the whole city, regardless of where each resident lives.

The nature of a community orientated project like the one I lead focuses on living out the faith we all proclaim. It balances elements of worship (as I also preach in addition to running the prayer ministry for the centre and organising community prayers), action, service and fellowship.

Note: this was written several months ago and some of the reflections have changed but I need to do a final reflection prior to my last interview as part of my training.

Overheards and expectations

I’m typing this on the gadget while being sat in a cafe in Shropshire and this is providing me an opportunity for highly entertained reflection which is challenging my expectations.

Since the mrs moved to the same city I’ve been travelling by bus more again. The journeys have varied from being completely unexceptional to highly noteworthy. On our latest explore we overheard a story which would have seemed quite at home on Jeremy Kyle. The woman in question was in a deeply personal conversation with what appeared to be her ex and she was suggesting that he couldn’t play happily families with her, their child… And the new gf! As the phone calls (plural) progressed prison was mentioned and reassurance that the person on the other end of the phone wouldn’t be arrested. This seemed particularly ironic as it was barely mentioned before the bus took as past the prison. Neither of us seemed convinced this was the kind of conversation you’d want overheard but the whole bus surely knew the gory details. Unfortunately this wasn’t an occasion where expectations.

Nor for that matter was a bus journey interrupted by girls who’d evidently sat on springs. Their conversations were interspersed by mock fall outs and moving from one side of the bus to the other to avoid or join one another. Their conversations were suitably mundane but facebook was referenced more than once.

The most recent experiences of facebook are those which have challenged by expectations more. From the random overheards, those noted while in this coffee shop will keep me entertained for a while.

A couple of gentlemen on a neighbouring table were catching up when one of them remarked “I nipped onto iTunes to check out his music. Do you have any idea how many albums he released?” followed by a response of “no, but I popped onto YouTube to see some of his stuff”. The conversation continued and later peels of laughter ensued in response to a comment about facebook posts. These guys were certainly on older side of the facebook generation being well into retirement. While this shouldn’t surprise me it did but with great delight.

I shouldn’t be so cynical though. Facebook has it’s uses above and beyond the normal. I “met” my step-sister’s daughter this week as she was staying with my dad. Dad, the girl told me, was playing fb poker and his wife was watching x factor so the 7 year old had been encouraged to natter to me. Dad explained later that she’d done all the typing herself and would I mind offering to chat again because it helped her learn to spell. I can’t say I’d ever imagined chatting to a 7 year old on facebook – I barely consider doing it *off* facebook!

Horray for those things that open new doors and challenge expectations.

Bibles

Next week should, subject to results, be my final local preachers meeting on Trial. As part of it I will be completing an interview on 2 of John Wesley’s Sermons (The Almost Christian and The Use of Money) as well as doing a follow up interview about progress throughout my training and since I was interviewed last (when I prepared some reflections on the journey so far).

It also means the time has come for me to choose the Bible to request as an accreditation gift. For me this is far more exciting than having a service to mark the occasion or finishing the course etc. It’s been a while since I was given a Bible and I wouldn’t necessary want to use my Adventure Bible or my rainbow covered Good News Bible for preaching from. As such this is a nice opportunity to get something quite good and much more appropriate to a) adulthood and b) my current approach to the Bible.

What would you pick if you could ask for anything, well anything to an upper price limit? For those who have already been at this stage, what did you choose when you were given the opportunity? I quite fancied this one but can’t seem to find it close enough to the upper price limit.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Notes on my Spiritual Journey 4 – The Convent

My decision to leave university was both last minute and unexpected. As such, when I came to look for something to do a large aim was to find something which would give me the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and reassess my future plans. After an initial light hearted suggestion to my chaplain that I go off and become I nun, I approached an order in Birmingham to see if they’d let me live alongside them for 6 months. As it would have it, after an appropriate time of discernment for all concerned, I moved in about 6 months after leaving university.

The space provided me with great love and acceptance as well as encouragement to be myself. I truly began to understand that in serving the needs and requirements of those around me, especially those who were very humble and unassuming, I could not only find myself but also find great joy in that action. The regularity of routine, particularly meals and prayers, helped me to develop beyond my university experience and grow into an adult.

As part of my stay, I was encouraged to combine activity with action to deepen my understanding of my faith. I undertook an introductory course in Biblical Studies which helped my understanding, and my volunteering both inside and outside the community gave me many ways to see the ways in which the action was as important as the prayer and bible study.

The final part of my stay which continues to be of relevance to me is my spiritual director. During my residency, I was encouraged to find someone with whom I could share my thoughts and feelings about faith. I was perfectly matched on my first attempt to find a director, and continue to see him regularly. He has shared with me different facets of my spiritual experiences over the last 5 years. The sessions frequently provide a useful reminder of things which may have happened some time ago, or of changes I have made. My visits to see him also enable me to continue to visit the sisters and, no matter how formative each strand is, I find them permanently linked.

The sisters were truly welcoming and encouraging and it remains a great honour to have had them welcome me into their lives. They continue to be like family to me and hold a very special place in my heart.

It must be the middle of August (rant alert)

Every year at this time the news media in the UK seem to be filled with the similar comments about the education system. Take your pick from the following: “standards are falling”; “exams are getting easier”; “the opposition condemn (x element) of the education system”; “the problem with easy(?!) subjects e.g. media studies”.

I would like to stand up and be counted as one who truly hates this annual ritual and thinks it to be incredibly unfair and belittling to both students and teachers. It is not acceptable to undermine the work and commitment of some (even most) striving for the best results possible, and suggest that in some way it is less significant than the work of their predecessors.

Teaching is one of those jobs that I would not do for all the money in the world because it would drive me mad, but (and partly because of that reaction) I have a huge respect for teachers. Many of my friends and several of my family are teachers while my sister amongst others wishes to make it her career. And to make that commitment, even for all the rewards it brings, requires a submission to the education system which is fair political game for point scoring and bickering.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that some of the developments over the last few years have been appreciated while others haven’t. Growing up, however, I was used to curriculum changes (and sometimes very significant ones) occurring as regularly as every other year. No chance to get used to one set of goals and targets before the next is implemented. It is not going to be possible for either students or teachers to be able to fully reach their potential when there is no continuity from one year to the next.

It seems that the continuing and various methods of assessing students and their schools are never viewed as adequate. That may indeed be the case, but why is it that the majority of the discussions are focussed on this particular week/weekend (at least in the media). Every August, in the run up to A Level and GCSE results it seems that all those frustrated with the system or looking to score cheap jibes crawl out of the woodwork.

I would like to say to all those people: If it matters, keep talking about it and working for it throughout the year BUT shut up now! If you want to increase standards and celebrate achievement, do not do all you can to undermine them at the time when students are at their most anxious about results. Let us take the opportunity to celebrate with those who’ve done well, for themselves as well as by objective standards. Let us commiserate and have sympathy and understanding for those who have not achieved what they wanted or hoped for. But whatever you do, do not condemn the same students for the challenges or failings of the system over which they have no control.

Notes on My Spiritual Journey 3 – Student Christian Stuff

The Student Christian Society was discovered at a similar time to the chaplaincy. A group of about 10 – 20 of us met weekly to drink tea and natter. Sometimes we’d do some theological discussion, and other times we’d go bowling. Once a term we’d do the evening service at the chaplaincy, and we’d go on an annual retreat. The group was made up of a quirky group of people but all of us found fellowship with one another. We had no expectations about each other’s beliefs, chosen worship styles, passions or university (for there were 4 to choose from). The group was a tight knit bunch but deeply committed to living out faith fully, and exploring together.

In my second year, things moved up a notch as I also discovered the Student Christian Movement, and in that a thriving group across the country doing what we were doing. I attended their annual conference and found myself encouraged to write prayers and interactive activities (alt worship) for the corporate worship one evening. In co-ordinating the worship from SCS I had benefited from a lot of advice from a good friend training as local preacher. On conclusion of the worship session, I felt greatly honoured and encouraged that several people from the conference asked for the resources to use within their own communities.

It was in this setting that I had found myself increasingly involved in preparing and leading worship for the student group, and within the chaplaincy. As the time came for SCS to lead their termly evening service, the group met to prepare it. As all of us had concerns and fears about ‘preaching’ or doing the ‘talky bit’ we opted for preparing a slide show enabling people to reflect personally on the word of God. As the Sunday of the service approached, I became increasingly unsettled that we had no exploration of the readings and, by about midnight the night before a feeling had boiled up inside me where I felt I had to respond to the readings by preparing and delivering a ‘talky bit’. The same friend who had assisted me with the prayers earlier, encouraged me and made time to guide me through some basics to consider as I prepared the reflection. The reflection was duly written and presented, giving more structure and definition to the service. I was encouraged to consider exploring preaching further, but on that initial occasion said I’d done more than enough of it.

I was encouraged to lead a similar section of the service on one subsequent occasion and found it rewarding.

On leaving university I continued by links with SCM nationally by getting involved in their board of trustees. This gave me unique opportunities to work alongside chaplains and to commit to this organisation which was increasingly meaning more to me. The space, at a national level through events and publications, informed me about ideas and influential thinkers I’d not had the opportunity to experience until then. In this environment I was not only challenged but equipped to respond to the questions which were emerging. It was the opportunity for me to grow faster, confidently and competently within the theological setting while being allowed to critique as many ideas as I embraced.

My time at SCS, and SCM, led to me seeking to ensure that such provision as I had benefited remained available for other students, and many of the people I met through the organisations remain good friends.

Notes on My Spiritual Journey 2 – University Church

After taking up the offer to be put in contact with the chaplain, the Free Church Chaplain got in touch with me as soon as I arrived, and we met in the first week or so of University. He was a marked difference from the ministers I had known at church for he was someone I would describe as ‘normal’ and ‘human’ rather than pious. For me it was still something of a revelation that these things could be mixed, and the requirement to be Christian was not to be completely alienated from the world. This realisation started a huge change within my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. In the chaplaincy church, an LEP and the place I first discovered Methodism, I found a very questioning approach to faith and a commitment to do something as well as just be something.
During my time in the church, I found myself going through various personal challenges associated with leaving behind the familiar. Many university students will have had similar experiences, but the people in the church made me welcome and helped me work through my challenges. It was during this time that I felt I wanted to make the commitment of being baptised, something subsequently conducted by the chaplain. It is an experience I still remember and am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to do as an adult.

It was also during my time in this church I became more interested in leading worship. Unlike in my home church, members were encouraged to lead the intercessions and the student group was asked to lead an evening service once a quarter. In this environment I found myself reluctantly willing to engage in these acts, and subsequently became comfortable in doing them. There was great encouragement from the fellow congregation to explore these feelings further but the minister suggested that I wait. He pointed out that I had a time of uncertainty ahead, and more than enough to worry about with a degree to do, so to consider it in the future but wait until life was more stable. His advice proved to be very helpful, as it is in a time of stability that I have felt myself responding best to the call to preach and being most enriched by the experience.

Notes on My Spiritual Journey 1 – Home Church

Since the beginning of lent, I have enjoyed and valued reading Chris(toph)’s reflections on his spiritual journey.   As I recently was challenged to review mine as part of my local preacher training, I thought I’d share some of them for posterity over the next few weeks (given how frequently I blog).

Home Church

I was one of those children, like many, for whom questions were great but never easy for the suffering adult to respond to, and it is down to my ‘what’s that *for*?’ question that mum ventured into the local URC. At the time there were a group of other people around my age (preschool) and so a firm bond was established. The minister, during these formative years, was a great orator who could command his congregation, and thus was highly respected. His passion and commitment was clear and so I found myself willingly swept up in this family like environment. It also meant that after he’d moved on, and I hit my teenage years, I felt able to take the break I needed from the church.

What makes the church all the more significant is that it encouraged me to grow beyond, and subsequently leave, its walls behind. As I was preparing to head off to university, in the final year of my work placement and A Level, I got inexplicably buried in a very complex and difficult situation with a friend and her mother. The experience pushed me to the limits of my pastoral experience and willingness to offer unconditional love and support to those around me. In this feeling of being out of my depth I turned, for the first time in years, to the church which had supported me as a child. I had ample respect for the minister at the time (with whom mum had continued to worship), and especially in pastoral situations, that I turned to him for a listening ear. He provided the support I needed and encouraged me to persevere with the situation, but he also offered me an unexpectedly marvelous opportunity. He offered to pass my details to the chaplain at my university. While this rather unused resource was new to me, this offered me the hope and opportunity to find communities I could explore at university. Having worked, rather than studied, before university, I felt more like the mature students than those of similar age. His great gift enabled me to make that contact, and thus move onto the next stage of my spiritual life.

The other specific incident from this church occurred a couple of years later, and was equally as transformative but is based in a very different interpretation than the one intended. After my time at university, I found I had moved away from the teachings of the URC at home, but didn’t have the courage to look for an alternative place to worship while there. On this occasion, the visiting preacher was using an analogy of Christians being magnets, and I found this imagery very, very helpful. While he was emphasising the links and continuing path back to Christ as we all stick together, I took a rather tangential approach. If Christians are like magnets, as he says, then eventually those at the end of any one chain will be repelled by those on another. As such, I understood, it was important to find those fellow Christians with whom you can find that unity, fellowship and companionship. If that is not in the congregation you’re currently in that is not the end of the world, it is encouragement to keep looking until you find somewhere you can make your home. So I left, and went to a local Methodist church where I continue to choose to worship when at Mum’s.

Un/Gendered God

Chris recently wrote a comment about the gender of God, in his post about his parents, which led to Jack remarking that she was going to go away and think about the gender of God. 

I’m fortunate that I had good discussions about similar as part of my baptism classes a few years back.  Since then I’ve also found myself on the periphery of various discussion on gender.  It even ties in with two unrelated strands of my job(s) this year!  

In trying to formulate my thoughts, it has been something of a challenge to think of the most appropriate ways of phrasing what I think, so I hope this makes some sort of sense.

For me the balance of gender across the Trinity is important but each element has, I believe, a predominant gender.  The Spirit is most strongly associated with feminine traits (i.e. old testament Wisdom in Proverbs and the Spirit brooding like a mother at creation).  Jesus, partly through incarnational gender, is as masculine as the Spirit feminine.  The Godhead/father, therefore, is not gendered.  This, for me, is neither a statement of too much nor not enough gender, but represents a balance whereby gender is not of key significance to the being that is God.  Lots of the biblical descriptions of God offer imagery which is prominently masculine, then on other occasions feminine.  I believe that, each part of the Trinity can transcend the human associations of gender attributed to each, and that is why, for me, the presence of this perceived balance is essential to my understanding of God.  I think this language of gender sometimes is a distraction from a God for whom gender is not essential.