Leaders and leading

This week I’ve completed a leadership course which got me thinking about what kind of leaders are needed nowadays. I know as soon as I say “nowadays” I betray the fact I am officially middle aged. However it’s disappointing how simplistic our expectations seem to be of our political leaders in particular. I am not suggesting all our political leaders are one dimensional but more how little we seem to care about the 3D side of them.

It seems the most obvious explanation for how we have hung out to dry a morally courageous man like Tim Farron. who explicitly shared both his discomfort at having to pronounce his views about “sin” on news programmes but also his passion for equality for the LGBT community.

To me he’s been a great leader in trying to live out his faith in politics and quite human in not wanting to denounce the doctrine of the church who support and pray for him.

There are so many people who dodge issues of faith altogether when it doesn’t fit their political ones, and I think this is actually the wider path to take. I admire particularly gay christians who struggle daily with the contradictions and hypocrisy of the church and continue to form part of our church communities because god comes first for them above cultural norms which might say “ditch it.”

Gay marriage is a hot topic and I respect everyone’s choice to hold alternative views to myself. It also seems to act as a lightning rod for other differences.

I heard Rev Richard Coles speak this week powerfully into a non Christian academic, liberal audience this week about his journey into faith and was amazed at how referently people listened to his stories which were of course beautifully crafted. It was clear to me that God had been at work in his life and that Gods love is not just restricted to those of us who are “straight”.

 

 

 

Lurking

So I’ve given up Facebook for Lent, but have actually given up posting on Facebook rather than checking it out. This is technically known as lurking. I’ve failed on a few occasions to resist the urge to press “share”, but overall I’ve found it a good discipline to self-edit my online presence a bit more than normal. I’ve never tried this before, normally I give up chocolate or biscuits and fail completely!

I’ve also just been on a silent retreat with college, where I was unable to “share” with the group my insights and thoughts and had to restrict myself to my own company. I got through it with lots of walks, reading, painting and sleep, but again it was helpful to notice how compulsive I am as an Extrovert in just sharing whatever is currently in my head on any given day!

Lurking it seems to me has some benefits. Rather than responding and sharing immediately I can think it over and reflect on what is happening. Is this me and my friends freaking out, or are we actually in the middle of something bigger that is going on. Does everyone want or need to know my political views? Maybe I should save that for Twitter?

It’s human to want to share and be part of the conversation, and in my work in the church I’ve set up a weekly drop-in so anyone who needs some company can come and have a coffee. We’ve also arranged for someone to come in and do some crafts with us after Easter, so I’m really looking forward to doing some of the stuff normally reserved for the kids!

I’ve also noticed recently how lucky I am to have the company of my family. Not always in conversation with them, (often this is really exhausting!) but like now as I write this, they are all off somewhere doing their own thing, so we are together but not really having to chat.  I think when you live alone this is the hardest part is not being quiet with anyone else. On my retreat I found the presence of my colleagues on the course really reassuring, even though we couldn’t speak to each other.

This morning at church I gave a card to lady I’m supporting who literally has noone. Her husband died at the end of last year and she has no parents, children, brothers, sisters or anyone living near her at all. It’s quite rare to meet someone in that situation, but it does happen. I have never felt so happy to give someone a mother’s day card! I can’t be with her as much as she’d like as she really would like someone as a companion 24/7 as she’s not used to being alone, but I am trying to find other people to support her, so that’s not always the case.

As a vicar, there will be a large amount of being around, rather than saying or doing much, and purposefully lurking in places where people may want a chat. In my faith journey, there’s always been times when  I’ve had to take a step back to hear from God, and part of my challenge now is to create quiet times in and amongst the madness of work, study and family life. I’m following another blogger who has just recently posted on this here.. http://lifebynaomi.com/faith/how-to-find-time-for-a-quiet-time

Right when he knew he was about to be betrayed, we hear in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus took himself to a garden and prayed through the night, so late that the disciples all fell asleep. That fervent desire to be in conversation with God, is often easier when we have an urgent request, but God really desires us to speak to him alone all the time, not just when we are after something. Jesus regularly speaks from God because he is in constant dialogue with the father.

So it’s worth doing a bit of lurking around with God, he won’t pass up the opportunity to hang out with you, and any prayer you speak will not be wasted, regardless of how daft you feel doing it. The presence of God, like that of my family and friends is often something I sense but can’t quite describe why it’s important or helpful. When I get chance to really acknowledge it, and praise him for his love, it becomes more of a conversation to treasure and remember.

This Easter I’m going to be away again at college and will miss putting up all the decorations in Holy Week and being part of my church family at that time, but I am looking forward to being free to worship God with other Christians that week, when normally I’d be with the family or at work. The more time I spend lurking with other people the more opportunity there is to give and receive God’s love, which ultimately what it’s all about.

1 John 4 v 7-8

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

When the tears run out

This week I’ve been mostly thinking about Happy Valley the hit UK show set in Yorkshire. I couldn’t believe the last episode was here so soon as I’ve come to look forward to the show so much. The lead character is so human, so complex I’m smitten! It’s hard to comprehend how she’s survived all the drama and how she keeps caring and smiling. 

I think we tend though to put ourselves as women in the impossible situation of either being fragile, beautiful and caring or tough, independent and streetwise. Catherine’s character seems so fully formed and all encompassing its dazzling on a mainstream tv show.

The women I’ve met like Catherine who can embrace all sides of life have sadly had their own suffering to deal with. When the tears run out they carry on and learn to live again despite the heartache.  Mary Berry also reminded me of this in her Easter show, when she mentioned they always raise a glass to her son on Easter Day who died as a teenager. There is something amazing about how as an older woman she lights up Bake off with a grace and charm which is incomparable. 

In Luke 2 v34 When Mary and Joseph took Jesus as a baby to the temple for an initiation ceremony, they were met by an old man called Simeon who immediately recognised Jesus as his saviour- when he had finished praising God he said to Jesus parents what he saw for him;

“Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.””

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:34-35‬ ‭NLT‬‬M

This Easter let’s pray for all those parents like Mary and Joseph who’s souls have been pierced by a sword of sorrow in losing a child and thank God that there is light and life and joy  as well as suffering in this world.

Glad tidings!

One of the down sides of being a parent it seems to me is the constant list of things you are suddenly supposed to be good at- climbing trees, baking, making food, creating things with bits of paper, entertaining other kids, making stories sound exciting, and patiently listening to lots of stories about things you are not interested in without sounding bored. I think that’s why we compare ourselves to each other too much. You think, if I was more like that mum then I could organise a fundraiser, or if I was more like that mum, I’d be great at cooking and the list goes on. I don’t remember doing this particularly before I was a parent, but I’m sure I did a bit.

Basically envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that isn’t all that much fun. It’s easy to let your schadenfreude about other people’s sorrows make you think more positively about your own life, or to be secretly thrilled when someone you didn’t get along with, turns out to have problems. It’s harder to be thrilled for someone who got a promotion instead of you..

I did a prayer tonight with one of my children and listed all the things we have to be thankful for, they responded with, well mummy you’ve missed lots of things out! I think that’s probably the case most of the time.

Christmas is all about the opposite of this, wishing others well. Celebrating the joy in the world, not just the bits that affect us. Giving generously and sharing our lives is also a good way to enjoy ourselves too. Feeling miserable about someone else’s achievements isn’t a great place to be. Spending time in contemplation alone, whether following mindfulness or meditation or prayer I find a really good antidote to this at any time of year, but I’m especially conscious of it at Christmas. Writing is one way that helps me.

So a very happy Christmas to anyone who’s ever read this blog, and thank you so much for all your glad tidings over the last few years, it’s meant alot to me that people keep reading this. I am praying the joy and happiness of the arrival of the baby Jesus will in some way remind us all of the good things in  our lives, and help share the blessings out in some way.

 

 

Easter

In our house Easter is a welcome break from school and work, and family time. This year we are going to see alot of family as there is a reunion happening for my Granny Buster’s 100th birthday on Easter Monday.Granny is in the pretty advanced stages of dementia, so it’s unlikely she will come, or if she does will recognise any of us. It seems fitting though that as we are celebrating her 100 year life, and probably the end of her life in the next few years,  the church is celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of a new religion, social movement and new understanding of how God works.

The idea of life after death I think is tricky to accept, but as a Christian I’ve had some glimpses of this, which make me believe it does exist. I pray that Granny will be at peace when she dies, and is released from her current ill-health.  I think when the disciples met with Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, they would have really believed in life after death for the first time. The only difference is they didn’t realise it was him to start with, so he must have appeared either different looking or in a way that didn’t instantly mark him out to them. It was through his actions, his words and his manner with them that they knew who it was. If you have lost someone, it’s their touch, their presence and their words that you miss.

As a child I really couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die, why the world would hate something so positive. In his brief 3 years teaching, people were cured from ill-health, demons driven out, hope restored. It has to be a political issue I think, that the establishment were threatened by his message of peace and hope, and that it was almost too good to be true.

Another event taking place this Easter..  My cousin Hamish’s daughter Mia has Batten Disease, which is a terminal illness, and rather than just trying to get by, they are campaigning to raise awareness. This year on March 31 they are asking people to bounce for batten and repost their photos on twitter with #bounce4batten (for more information go to www.bounce4batten.com) I like the campaign, as it’s a celebration of life, rather than focusing on death, and I think this is part of the message of Easter. While it’s hard to understand why God allows bad things to happen, why children have to die, it’s also possible to focus on the hope of a life lived, and the essence of that person living on in heaven.

Unity in Lent

This lent I’ve signed up to 40 acts through  http://www.40acts.org.uk

Today its about diversity and how the churches could work more towards unity across faiths, different colours, creeds. Today’s challenge is about diversity. Last Saturday I attended a teaching session on the Psalms, written thousands of years ago, before Christ arrived,  and the following one seems pretty relevant

Psalm 133 When Brothers Dwell in Unity

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

133 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity![a]
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

The teacher explained that the dew of Hermon was the only water for miles around, for the Jews who were living in the desert, and the oil running down Aaron, was an annointing oil that was used to express God’s pure love for those it touched. When people of faith unite to do God’s work, we are most pleasing to him. It’s not just about our faith, our doctrine, our way of worship, our cool hymns, or giving up alcohol for lent, it’s about what God’s work inspires us to do, and when we do this in tandem, like an orchestra playing a symphony, it sounds amazing to God, far better than our individual songs that he knows and loves dearly. It feels really special to know that I am making a conscious effort to live better in Lent, along with my fellow Christians in the UK. If you haven’t already signed up I’d really recommend it… so far 74,000 have given it a go!

Today gave me a good example, as we went to bed last night we noticed water pouring through the ceiling. Today I knew what it was like to not have heating, water and light in the house. I might pray about people living in poverty but if I experience it, I understand it better.

Ascension

We’ve been watching this programme that’s out at the moment, its about a social experiment, where a group of people are under the impression they are on a space ship going out into the universe, seeking a new planet and new place to live. The people selected to be part of this experiment left in the 60’s, so haven’t seen the social changes that have happened since then, and the social structure is strictly managed. It’s quite a good concept, and quite disturbing to think that the people who’s lives have been radically altered by this experience are essentially living a lie.

At work we’ve been thinking about systems, and how as humans its often easier to subscribe to a culture or system than to act as an individual. Like the people in the phony space shuttle, it doesn’t actually matter if the the culture is based on truth or not, as long as everyone pulls together and works as a team to maintain the working environment. Too much radical change and rebellion is unsettling for any society, and we’ve been considering what small changes we can effect that will improve our effectiveness as individuals and cumulatively move to a new way of working as a team that has more positive effects. To start with this feels really unsettling, but I am really interested to see if we can move from how it’s always been to how it should be.

This morning another Becky was preaching at St Paul’s and she described the idea of someone being called, named by God and requested to fulfill a specific challenge. She described how we are all called to serve God in many ways and how this is a blessing that makes us equal as Christians together, even though some status and hierarchy often exists within church communities. The thing that makes us stand out though I think, is that God not only has a plan for each of us, sometimes it’s a radically different one to the culture, status and practice of the society that you live in. We are not like in the film Ascension, pre-programmed to live specific lives to enable the whole culture to survive, it’s more random and more wonderful in God’s world. People that used to be tax collectors like Levi, that Becky was preaching about, can go on to serve to achieve God’s plans. People who used to be homeless can be statesmen, and mums who are breastfeeding or weaning their babies can also be inspirational leaders. Waterfalls and rainforests, moors, beaches and deserts are all beautiful in different ways. The real galaxies of stars are changing day by day and the infinite nature of the universe is totally awe inspiring.

While the way we live on this planet is not great, and we are probably doing huge damage as the human race, we  can also be fascinating and wonderful people.  The stories of a grandma, raising thousands for a homeless man in the UK has been inspirational recently, and the small acts of random kindness that so many people do every day is not predictable or expected. The difference that parents see in children with special needs can be awe inspiring, and the contribution of people with mental illness to creative writing, art and theatre is immense.

We shouldn’t therefore be scared as Christians to break the mould, or if we feel uncomfortable within the social order, this shouldn’t be a surprise, as God’s ways are wonderful and also quite unfathomable, and that’s what makes it so exciting to walk in faith.

Acts 17 v24-25 “The God who made the universe and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in shrines made by humans, 25 and he isn’t served by humans as if he needed anything. He gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have.”

It will come to pass

Sometimes it seems like progress is incredibly slow, and you are not moving forward. The other day I watched some children in their class learning how to tread water. My daughter asked what they were doing, and  I explained it’s quite hard to swim without moving and they are learning how to do that.  The effort and energy it takes to stand still always seems to me to be more than moving forward, whether it’s a good idea or not! In life this hasn’t always served me well as I am prone to make rash decisions, move jobs, or move house becuase of an intuition or gut feeling. The time the church has taken to decide to annoint the first woman bishop today Libby Lane, to me seemed a lifetime. For others I am sure it didn’t seem long enough. There is a montage on the bbc here of the ceremony which took place today in York.  It was really moving to see, and my parents were delighted to be there in the congregation, saying “yes” when the Archbishop asked “do you support this?” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30974547

Sometimes though it’s good to stop and wait, to listen out for God’s word amongst the chatter, to actively listen without moving forward and to just stop for a while. At christmas this year, mainly because of ill-health we had to do that. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Asking for help sometimes means saying, I can’t move forward without you, what do I do now? Then listening to the answer!

This January I have been doing the dryathon, I’ve felt more alert, slept better, but haven’t sadly shed a stone in weight as I’d hoped! The instant results we all crave, are often a bit of a myth. The boring truth is that to lose a stone I would have to change my eating habits as well as my drinking ones. With our prayer life with God it’s similar. The daily ritual of prayer, reading the bible and reflection hasn’t always come easy to me. I would really struggle with being a Buddhist or regular meditation, but just even a few minutes each day to close your eyes and rest the brain can’t be a bad thing. It’s through this quiet time I think we often hear God’s voice. Not always though! God’s timing is often not the same as our human hearts expect.  There is a joke, that a man meets God and asks for help. God explains that one human lifetime is like a second to him and a million pounds just a penny. The man then says “can I have one of your pennys?”. God replies… “just a second…”

Since the church began this has been the same.. But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day! (Habakkuk 2:3 TLB).

So today I am celebrating God’s timing, as I was in York when the big day happened, and happened to be with other people of faith, just having a coffee round the corner when history changed.

Walking together to the Lord’s mountain

My friends and I were meeting last night to review a book called “The Help” set in 1960’s America, and we discussed the fact that although slavery is long gone, and the civil rights movement has achieved “equality”, being black in the US doesn’t always feel like being free. We all loved the book, as it depicts women’s ordinary lives and how black women and white women were living together in such different circumstances, obeying different rules and behaving so differently whilst still in the same town, at the same point in history, and all being mothers or grandmothers together. We found it disturbing, and shocking as well as heart-warming and educational.

The news of Tamir Rice’s death today is difficult to comprehend. It seems to us in the UK almost unheard of, that a young boy would be shot at close range by a police officer, or that school children would be carrying guns. The grand jury’s decision not to indite a police officer for the killing of an unarmed man (Michael Brown) is also difficult to understand and the two together is a national tragedy. To be “young, gifted and black, that’s where it’s at” according to Nina Simone, but for Michael and Tamir they are not going to be able to unravel their talents and gifts in this life and their brothers and sisters are in mourning.

I don’t think there are any easy words to provide comfort when someone’s life is taken “before their time”, but I do think as Christians we should be praying in solidarity with African Americans right now. Violence is not the answer, but there is a scene in “the help” when a young man comes into a prayer meeting and says “we need more than just prayer right now”. It doesn’t seem that different 50 years later.

I get a weekly verse sent through to me by the Salvation Army, and this week it was “Coming together is a beginning-keeping together is progress- working together is success” and “for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”, so even though you and I are not together right now, I think God will be amongst us somehow if we share this moment of reflection.

The passage we studied on Sunday at church, was Isaiah 2, verses 1-5, which describes a vision of what it would like if all nations came together. I know black and white Americans are from the same country, but they have such different histories, heritage and cultural legacies, that it seems like they live in different places. So maybe we can think about these words as we read the news and watch the TV about these terrible times.

2 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lordto the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Keeping up with the Jones’s

I don’t know about you but I often think some friends of mine I admire have really got things sussed. They have gorgeous husbands, lovely children, work flexibly so they can be around for their children, cook fabulous meals whilst effortlessly rising through the ranks at work to smash the odd glass ceiling or two! If they are married, then their husbands are pursuing their dreams and they enjoy their weekends  together as a family.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my life is pretty amazing, I have a great job, home, loving husband, gorgeous children and food on the table, and a roof over my head. There are times when it seems pretty tough as well. I’ve been through redundancy, near death experiences, being rejected by work for opportunities I thought I could step up and do, I’ve been ignored by people I used to be close to, seen family go through the torture of mental illness, and most days wishing I spent more time with the kids.

However as a Christian, I think it’s really important that I am not trying to be a “super-apostle” as described by Paul in one of his letters to the early church. As I’ve mentioned before I feel called to move to leadership in the church, and find myself wondering why me? I am deeply flawed, and not really the most holy of people. I swear, drink, shout at the kids, I like watching rubbish TV and eating junk food. I love going to the pub, most of my friends aren’t Christians and don’t know my bible very well at all!

It turns out this is exactly why God is trying to “tap me up” for his team. If we are “holier than thou”  as leaders in the church then noone will want to know about Christ, as it’s through our dark times and weaknesses that we often come to know Jesus. God doesn’t want us to all read the same newspapers, parent our children the same way and eat the same food.  If your vicar is a “super-apostle” then it may seem too much like a marathon to run, to keep up. Anyone who says they have all the answers and can explain how easy it is to follow Christ, is probably not telling you the truth. Most people I know who have a deep understanding of their faith, have persevered through really difficult times without much concrete proof that the Lord is with them.

Paul in his letters to the Corinthians talks about this in 2 Corinthians 12 v7-10

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So whatever the issue is in your life, whether it’s not being able to share your faith with those around you, that you can’t have a baby, not having enough money, having a chronic illness, facing redundancy or losing a loved one, instead of saying “why me?” you could try saying through gritted teeth

“Thank you lord! Thank you for this opportunity to get to know you better, and to rely on your strength to keep me going. Show me the way and help me turn to you.”

God will always bless those who cry out to him like this. Not always in the way you had in mind though!