Ordination.

Ok, so I was struggling with a title.  It’s Star Wars day, so I thought maybe I’d go for:

— .-. -.. .. -. .- – .. — -.

Because, you know, ‘use the Morse, Luke’.  But I figured that would be sad.  And I didn’t want to saddle you with any daft puns (use the horse, Luke).  Maybe I could just settle on the theme of a journey or path (use the course…).  Perhaps I could announce that I was going to be sponsored through ordination training by Heinz (use the sauce…).  But no, I’ll stay serious.

Oh.

Anyway, today was the second ‘chat with the vicar’.  It was nice to have another catch up, which was of course preceded by taking some more time for myself to think and pray a bit more about this whole idea.  I did find myself on the school run this morning thinking maybe now would be a good time to chicken out.  That would certainly be the easier option.

But when the vicar (who henceforth shall be called Martin) asked the question along the lines of ‘do you still want to pursue this?’, my answer was ‘yes’.  So pursue it we shall.  I told him some of the responses to my facebook post ahead of the first chat (which all seemed pretty positive) and he said that was useful to know.  So thanks to those who commented!

We talked church, and frustrations, and life.  We talked about our church specifically, too.  He’s spoken to the DDO since our first meeting, so the next move is for me to get in touch with the DDO.  Then I think we’ll meet up.  And, if I remember correctly (I only slept for 4 hours last night, so my memory potential is somewhat reduced, despite the meeting only happening two hours ago) Martin and the DDO and I will then all meet up together and talk about ‘what next’.

And there’s a vocations day in October that seems like a wholly sensible thing to do.

So there’s a speedy squeeze-it-in-before-lunch update on the process.

I’ll keep you posted:)

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All the Places to Go: How will you know? [book] by John Ortberg

I don’t know what your approach is to reading.  Sadly, my addiction to reading (or at least the time I devote to it) doesn’t quite match my addiction to buying books.  This means that I currently am reading at least eleven books (there may be others…)  And waiting in the wings (ok, on the bookshelf) a further seventeen (or more) books await my attention.  And I’ve accidentally bought another 4 books this week, because they were on offer.

I consider myself mightily blessed that I can afford to buy books on this sort of scale (they are part of a decent collection!).  But it does mean that I do occasionally find myself getting a bit lost in the haze of concurrent reading material.  One of my current reads is David Runcorn’s ‘Dust and Glory’ which is a Lent book – daily readings for Lent.  I figure that’s ok to be an ongoing project, rather than a cover-to-cover sort of read.  And I’ll blog about it in the not-too-distant future.  But one book that’s a relatively recent addition to the ‘current reads’ has been accelerated through the process, and I finished it this week.  It’s a book that Mum gave me and Anna.  It’s by John Ortberg and is called, ‘All the Places to go: How will you know?’

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It comes at a time when I’m taking some hesitant steps in the general direction of ordination (being a priest!).  Initial steps are simply a sort of ‘discernment’ process – they’re not exactly signing on the dotted line!

It’s basically all about doors.  Which perhaps doesn’t sound all that promising, if you’re not all that into doors.  But it’s a fantastic book.  It considers doors as part of the journey.  It considers the difficulties of passing through doors, and of finding doors firmly closed.  It encourages both persistance and patience.  It whispers hope and challenges movement.  It’s funny.  It’s real.  It presents some of the myths and fears we might have about doors.  Should I, or shouldn’t I?  What if I choose the wrong door?  What’s on the other side?  I suspect it’s the sort of book that would be great for anyone, but perhaps particularly for those who are considering particular ‘doors’ in their lives.  For us, that door is ordination.  Should I, or shouldn’t I.  Or perhaps more realistically, should we or shouldn’t we?

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It’s closed now, but should I keep knocking, or am I at the wrong door?

There’s plenty in the book that’s encouraging.  Doors that seem obvious might not be right.  Choosing the ‘wrong’ door is not necessarily the end of the world (unless there’s a big red button with ‘nuclear strike’ behind the door in question…)  It’s written with humour, for example:

A man I know was once convinced that a woman he was obsessed with was God’s choice for him.  The ultimate confirming sign for him came when he heard a song that made him think of her on the radio and prayed that if she really was “the one” that God would make the same song play on another radio station, and the same song did play on another radio station.  However, clearly he was wrong, because she married someone else.  Plus, it was a song by Village People, and I don’t think even heaven could use that.

I think my favourite chapter is the one titled “Thank God for Closed Doors”.  He talks about the struggles of unanswered prayer: the pain of unhealed suffering, the anguish of unchallenged injustice, the times when heaven seems resolutely silent, or worse, heartless.  Within this chapter is a very moving section headed, ‘God Knows about Closed Doors’.  Ortberg movingly writes of a God who stands at the door and knocks.  A God who longs to be welcomed into our lives, and yet finds Himself left out time and time again.  “So we stand with him in our pain at the closed door.”

And he reminds us of Jesus’ prayer in the garden:

… at the heart of the gospel is an unanswered prayer.  Jesus, kneeling in the garden, prayed, “Father, if it is possible, may this cup, this suffering, this death be taken from me.  Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
This is the most desperate prayer ever prayed from the most discerning spirit that ever lived, from the purest heart that ever beat, for deliverance from the most unjust suffering ever known.  And all it got was silence.  Heaven was not moved.  The cup was not taken from him.  The request was denied.  The door remained closed.

What would we do without closed doors?

I’d heartily recommend this book.  Not just for those who are facing changes and particular ‘doors’, though it is certainly something I’ve found immensely useful at such a time.  And now that I’ve blogged about it, I think I might go back and read the closed doors chapter again.  It really is worth it.

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Psalm 23. Give it a rest.

The fourth in the series on Psalm 23.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

What’s the most tired you’ve ever been?

For me, it was the night of the birth of our first child.  It was all going a bit wrong.  We were both exhausted (don’t worry, I completely get that Anna was more tired than I was!).  I’ve never struggled so much to function (though it probably wasn’t just a result of tiredness, to be fair).  Sure, there was that one ‘all night of prayer’ at uni, where I stayed up through the night and eventually went to sleep at about five in the afternoon.  But that was pure lack of sleep, it wasn’t anything more than that.  It wasn’t a sort of physical exhaustion, it was just a need for sleep.

But you only have to miss a single night of sleep to discover that it’s really quite important.  I read an article online (from the Guardian) about sleep that’s quite interesting (the article’s interesting, not sleep. Well, sleep’s kind of interesting but, oh, I’m sure you get it).  The author writes:

…you’re almost definitely not getting enough sleep. Barely any of us are. According to the British Sleep Council, if you don’t sleep for at least six hours a night, you’re 12% more likely to die young. Lack of sleep can trigger a range of health problems. It can give you heart disease. It can give you diabetes. It can make you obese. It can ruin your concentration, your memory and your youthful good looks in one fell swoop.

And this Psalm talks about us getting rest.  Lying down in green pastures.  There are a couple of useful points to make here.  First, Israel is not as verdant as dear old England.  We have lots of green grass because water falls out of our sky all the time.  It can be a bit harder finding a patch of green pasture in dry and dusty lands.  It often requires someone to have irrigated and cultivated.  It requires time, effort and care.  So if the shepherd has made us lie down in green pastures, he may well have had a hand in making the pasture as green as it is.

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Psalm 23. Shepherds and Genies.

The third in a series on Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

If you had your very own genie in a lamp, what would you wish for?  (Ok, so after you’ve wished for unlimited wishes, what would you wish for then?!)

 

We all have things that we want.  We might even become a bit obsessed by them.  Or we might just work very hard to achieve them.  I know someone who saved for years in order to buy the car that he wanted.  A genie would be useful in cutting out the work bit.  Your wish is granted in a flash.

But we also all have things that we need.  And perhaps this would be a better way of using our wishes.  Maybe we’d wish for healing, or hope.  Maybe it’s an answer that we’re looking for, or a solution.  Maybe the genie could meet our perceived needs, rather than our greatest desires.

Some years ago, our elder son’s class were writing their wishes on a star in the run up to Christmas.  To our surprise, he wrote, ‘I wish for nothing’.  So that’s exactly what we got him.  I have a niggling suspicion that ‘I wish for nothing’ was simply the easiest response to give (requiring no thought), rather than a expression of full contentment with his lot in life.

But I wonder if perhaps this Psalm requires a change in perspective.  We’re sometimes guilty of treating God as the ultimate Genie (albeit one who’s escaped from his lamp).  He has ultimate power, and loves us very much, so let’s ask Him for everything we want.  But I’m not sure this is quite what the Psalmist is driving at.  I think the Psalmist is more likely to be saying that, with The Lord as our Shepherd, we can be assured that He will supply everything we need.  He’s not the kind of shepherd who responds to our every whim, showering us with gifts we don’t need.  But our perspective must be that we have what we need, even when it’s less than we want.  And our greatest need, of course, is a restored relationship with the shepherd, and we can rest assured that that has been given to us by the shepherd who loves us deeply.  This Psalm makes that abundantly clear.

If you had your own Genie, what would you ask for?

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Psalm 23. Being a sheep.

So, this is the second in a little series on Psalm 23, which I’m chatting through with three lads I meet with on a weekly basis.  This is inspired by Urban Saints’ ‘LiveLife1-2-3’.  As before, we’ll kick off with a ‘starter question’, and then chat through a bit of the Psalm.  I think this post might be a bit less rambling than the previous one.  They’re intention is twofold; either they might help you to think through the Psalm, or they might help you in bringing others to a fuller understanding of the Psalm in a group or one-to-one setting.

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If you could be any type of animal you wanted, what would you be?

For me, it would be a snow leopard, hands down, every time.  They look cool, they speak of my heritage (growing up in the foothills of the Himalayas), and there’s something appealing about their solitude…

Needless to say, people will generally plump for ‘cool’, or big, or strong animals, and I’m not exception.  It’s pretty rare that people want to be something like a shrew (and if they do, there’s generally a good reason for it!).

According to our Psalm, what are we?  What do you know about sheep?  What do sheep follow?  How do they live?
The sheep in the Psalm are pretty reliant on their shepherd.  They get led to pasture, to water.  They are protected.  Not exactly living in glorious independence (or the solitude of my Snow Leopard!).
What about the lost sheep?  What happened to it?
It needed to be found – to be rescued.
Isaiah 53:6.  We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us going his own way.
How would you like to be a sheep?  How might it compare to the animal you’d first wanted to be?
We don’t always get it right, but God is always our shepherd.  We need Him.  We like to think that we can do life by ourselves, but we simply can’t.  The Psalm will go on to tell us about God’s care for us, how he shepherds us, and so we’ll look at it further in the coming weeks.
If you wanted another New Testament passage, you could throw in Mark 6, particularly verse 34:  “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”
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Psalm 23. An introduction.

So, what I’m hoping to do is write a little post on Mondays for a while.  I catch up with three lads in Costa over a weekly cup of something (currently Black Forest Hot Chocolate for me, and the others are all rather taken with the cold drinks).  We just have a general catch up, often somewhat distracted by electronic devices, and then a chat about something Christian.  This is inspired by Urban Saints’ Live Life 1-2-3.  We went through a period of thinking about specific words (like ‘ambassador’, ‘grace’ and so on).  We’ve recently started looking at Psalm 23.  I’ve found the book ‘Travelling Light’, by Max Lucado, really helpful in thinking about this.

Basically, each week, after we’ve just had a chat and catch-up, we’ve kicked things off with a starter question.  We chat about that, then have a look at the Psalm (we read it through the first week and have done so again since)

Like I say, I’ll try to blog about it on a Monday.  We’ll see how it goes!  This first one is the sort of intro to the Psalm, without getting into much detail on the finer points!

So, without further ado, here’s the starter:

What’s the heaviest thing you’ve ever carried?

I have to say, this led to an amusing bit of chat for a while.  After we’d chatted and chuckled our way around this question for a bit, we read through Psalm 23 together.

I then talked about the burdens that we might carry around that aren’t physical.  We might have to carry things that weigh heavily on us.  Or perhaps we choose to carry them…   But Psalm 23 shows us some of the things that are burdens, but which we can put down, and which don’t need to be carried any longer.  Our worries, our concerns, our fears, they can be put down – handed over to God.  This will be something that we keep coming back to.

Then I asked this question:  “Who’s your favourite teacher?  How would you feel if they said to you one day they wanted you to start using their first name, rather than their surname?”  We talked about the fact that this would suggest they wanted a different type of relationship than we might expect with a teacher.  I then asked how the Psalm it starts.  Predictably, the response was, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’.  But I wanted it shorter than that.  We got it down to ‘The Lord’ (sorry, I can’t seem to do the small CAPS on this blog…)  So we talked about the name of God.  I asked if they knew where it came from, and we chatted about Moses, and God revealing Himself in this new way.  He didn’t want to be known like the other ‘gods’ around at the time.  So even as we start looking at this Psalm, we’re reminded that the God who it’s speaking about is a God who wants a relationship with us.  It’s a God who lives, a God who loves His people, and a God who will never leave His people alone.

Of course, if you want to tie in some New Testament stuff too (which I’m trying to do each week) you can pretty easily tie in the incarnation.  A God who comes to His people.  And of course Jesus uses the term ‘I am’ when he’s being questioned in the run up to His crucifixion.  Plenty of scope for further discussion!

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Wood: of fire and fireworks.

It’s been a little while since I blogged (I’d decided to blog more often again this year, but seem to have strayed a little from that plan – I blame the tax return…)

So perhaps it seems a little odd to be blogging on a book on wood.  It was the book of the moment at Christmas.  We bought a copy for my brother-in-law.  My brother bought one for me.  I have to confess I was excited!

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We live in the countryside.  We have a large log fire.  We get through wood (especially when my brother-in-law is visiting, but that’s another story!).  We started out buying the stuff, but have since just bought a chainsaw.  When a tree falls over in our garden, it gets processed.  So a book on wood is right up my street.  It’s a book that goes into the sort of detail that most would perhaps find excessive.  There’s a whole chapter on the chopping block, for example.

But it wasn’t simply the focus on wood that I found most attractive when I read it.  It was more the general way of life which the book reflected and reflected upon.  The work involved in making fire is one that wraps around the seasons.  Preparation for Winter begins in the Spring.  Trees must be felled.  Wood must be dried.  A failure to prepare for Winter is dangerous if you rely on the warmth that the fire brings.  And the work of the warmer months is rewarded by the comfort and safety that fire brings in the winter.

Another seasonal problem for the woodcutter in the summer is the heat.  The work is arduous, and when temperatures rise you will find yourself sweating profusely inside your heavy protective clothing.  Besides the thirst and the headaches, the woodcutter will find himself tormented by the flies and midges that swarm from the branches when a tree has been felled.  A consolation for these discomforts is that memories of such hard times make the heat from each log burning in the grate that little bit warmer.

Perhaps this perspective is useful – the hard times, if used as times of preparation, can be part of the picture of seasons – one leads to another, the work done in one benefits another.  The hard work is for a purpose.  The book also speaks of a slower pace.  Our world (or at least the bit I live in) seems to operate at a frenetic pace.  Of course, much of this may be of benefit to certain aspects of life.  But when ‘overdrive’ is the only speed at which we travel, we’re in danger.  Our physical health is compromised, yes, but we also risk missing important things.  It’s tempting to assume we’ll miss less if we travel at speed, but of course that’s not completely true.  A job like woodcutting forces you to slow down (wielding an axe at speed is likely to cause trouble!).

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It’s also routine.  By that, I don’t mean that everyone does it (more’s the pity…)!  Rather, it’s a very repetitive activity.  Your first split log is much the same as the split log that finishes your fourth wheelbarrow load, except your arms might ache a little more by the latter.    And there’s something important about that routine, almost dull, nature of the work.  Often it seems that the ‘important’ jobs are those with glamour and glitz; those that excite and fufil.  The ‘firework’ jobs.  The ones that thrill and impress.  And yet those that meet a need through steady repetition have value too.  Without the logs being split, the fire would never be lit.

So what things are you doing that don’t fit the ‘exciting’ bracket, but still need to get done?  Do you need a reminder that those jobs are just as vital?  Those jobs need to be done for the sake of those you’re serving.  The split log, the changed nappy, the taxi service, the handing out books at the back of church, the blog posted.  Putting out the bins, the commute to another day doing the same thing you did yesterday.  Firework jobs are fun, and garner greater praise, but without someone to make sure the fire’s lit, we’re going to get cold.

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