Habit of a lifetime…

I wonder how you’re doing with the habits you want to develop and keep.  I wonder if you’re sailing through life with daily gym visits, or prayer times, or reading, or letter writing, or playing Candy Crush, or whatever it is you want to do…

Because I’m not sailing anywhere.

For me, Bible reading is the habit I want to develop/keep/rediscover.  I’m pretty sure I was pretty good at it when I was a kid, though perhaps Mum and Dad remember differently.  And most of my adult life has seen daily Bible reading as a pretty regular feature.  But right now, it’s a struggle.  (In fact, it occurs to me as I write this, as 6.30pm, that I haven’t yet read my Bible today).

Here’s some of the evidence.  I have a daily Bible reading notes thing, called Explore.  You might think that’s a pretty impressive start, but I’ve got it on direct debit (or standing order, or whatever it is) and it just keeps arriving on my doorstep every three months.  For the October-December one, I started October 7 days early.  This wasn’t keenness on my part, or a result of finishing the July-Sept ahead of schedule.  No, it was simply because I was so far behind with the July-Sept one that I figured I’d go ahead and get cracking on the next one, so that I wasn’t so far behind.

I was behind again by the 7th.

Here’s some more evidence.  A few days ago, I was reading my Bible (*faint cheer*) and was reading Ephesians 2:1-3.  It was only when I got to verse 7 that I realised three things: a) I had read four verses too far, b) I hadn’t taken in anything beyond the first couple of words, c) I was thinking about something else completely (something so utterly mundane that I can’t for the life of me even remember what it was!).

And I was conscious that sometimes I blog about great stuff, and things going well, and godly thoughts, and all that stuff.  And that’s all well and good, and it seems people appreciate stuff that I write.  But I wanted to just level with you and say it’s not all plain sailing here.  Life is not as wonderful or straightforward as I would sometimes like.

I should probably go and read my Bible.  But I won’t, because Little Boy is out of his bath (I’m sat in the doorway as I type) and I’ve got to get him ready for bed now.  But hopefully I’ll remember later, and actually do it.

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And it was so.

Exciting stuff – last week I got a copy of David Suchet’s audio Bible.  The entire NIV, read by David Suchet.  A big project for him, but one he was keen to do for years, apparently.  And if you want to get your hands on a half price copy, for the very tempting sum of £19.50, head over to Aslan Christian Books, where it’s currently on half price.

As soon as I got the audio Bible out of the packaging, I listened to Genesis 1 (it seemed like a good place to start).  One phrase jumped out at me.  It cropped up more than once during that first chapter:

“And it was so”

God spoke, and things happened.  ‘It was so’.  Just like that.  His word had power.  And that got me thinking.  Because when I read God’s word, it doesn’t always have that same effect on me.  I can read God’s word and ignore it.  I can read God’s word and forget it.  I can read God’s word and be choosey about which bits I’m going to take to heart.

And that, in turn, got me thinking about a film I love, called The Princess Bride.  (Stay with me, people, there’s a point!).  Here’s a clip (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.  If you’re really pushed for time, watch from 0.33 to 1.11)

Because it struck me that that phrase ‘as you wish’ was akin to ‘and it was so’.  Buttercup (the young woman in the clip) merely spoke, and the response from Westley (‘Farmboy’) was obedience.  But it was obedience borne out of love.

And that needs to be more of a pattern in my response to God’s words.  This is how I should live.  God’s word is, the majority of time, pretty clear and easy to understand.  So a failure to do what He asks of me is a often a sign of disobedience, rather than misunderstanding.

So, as I listen to God’s word, read by David Suchet, I’m going to try to think more about how I can respond.  How I can say ‘As you wish’, in response to God’s instructions.

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Glorious, glorified.

Just a quick blog from me, to get me back into the swing of things…

I was reading a Psalm yesterday, and this phrase was there at the beginning and end of the Psalm:

O Lord our governor, how glorious is your name in all the world.

And I mulled it over.  Because God’s name might not be glorified very much, but it’s still glorious.  We might not see many people acknowledging God’s greatness.  We might experience things that cloud His glory.  But He is still glorious.

You see, these pictures show nature, and it’s glorious.  But it isn’t glorious simply because I noticed it.  It isn’t glorious because I took a photo of it.  It isn’t glorious because I posted it on a blog.  It’s just glorious.  Wonderful and beautiful and all sorts of other things.

Likewise, God is glorious.  He isn’t glorious because of our acknowledgement, or our honour, or our approval.  He just is glorious.  Glorious is a state of being.  The question for me is, ‘What am I going to do about it?’  How am I going to respond to God’s glory?  Being blind to God’s glory is crazy.  Being aware of it but failing to respond to it is hiding from the truth.  The Bible tells me that a right response to God’s glory is to glorify Him.  To see His glory, to acknowledge it, and to praise Him for it.

What am I doing to glorify God this week?  Because I think I’m often as inclined to drift past God’s glory as easily as I brush past a stunning flower that, on another day, might so easily catch my attention.  Maybe it’s because I’m sort of dulled to the concept.  But that’s not ok.  Maybe I’m in a bit of a rush, but that’s no excuse.

He is glorious.  How will I respond?

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Ordination, part 2.

No, the title doesn’t mean I’m about to become a bishop.  One step at a time, eh?

Three months ago, I said I’d keep you posted, and it turns out I haven’t been very good at that.  I was sitting in a hotel bar last night, doing some study on the call of Abraham, and it crossed my mind that I hadn’t even blogged about the first meeting with the DDO, so here it is.

Meeting with the DDO, round 1.

As a family, we drove up to Derby so that I could meet with the DDO, and the rest of the family could potter around Derby.  We arranged to reconvene in a cafe almost across the road from Church House.  Very handy.

The meeting with the DDO (Geraldine) was really good.  There were a few key aspects to the discussion.  The first was largely biographical.  Who am I and where have I come from? sort of thing.  That was obviously a nice easy start, as I’m pretty confident with the answer to biographical questions!  It’s also not your average bio, and I enjoy talking about my heritage.  This was then revisited in terms of spiritual bio.  So we looked at the spiritual stuff that fitted into the chronology.  I also enjoy that sort of discussion🙂

We talked about the sense of call.  What kind of call had I experienced?  I said that, in a way, I’d have liked the writing on the wall, because that’s pretty unequivocal.  But I acknowledged that the precedent for writing on the wall was not an ideal one (for those not familiar with the Bible’s writing-on-the-wall story, the guy whose wall was written on ended up very dead very soon afterwards).  This bit of the discussion was admittedly harder.  Sure, I’ve sensed a call, but it’s been more of a nagging sense than a eureka moment or a flash of inspiration.  And let’s face it, this is a pretty crucial part of the steps towards ordination.  I talked about how the call might use some of my gifts (something that had already come up before).  Geraldine asked what those gifts were.  That was a short bit of conversation, obviously.  (That was a joke…)

I’d already thought about gifts a bit, and I kind of concluded that my gifts were:  1)  A love of people; especially young people.  2)  A love of scripture (although I admitted that you wouldn’t necessarily know that by watching my life at the moment – struggles there!).  3)  A love of words and communicating.

Of course, there are other things I’m pretty good at.  I’m vaguely musical, pretty calm most of the time, able to lead, and plenty of other stuff.  But I feel that the three things above are the most relevant to the kind of ministry I think I might be called to (though precisely what that is, or what shape it would take, I couldn’t possible say!).  This may of course develop and be added to over the course of this process…

We also chatted about the process itself.  There are people who’ve blogged in far more detail  about this aspect of things, and there’s some useful stuff on the Church of England’s vocation website.  But in summary, I’d say that there’s the discernment process (which may well take over a year).  This is basically the individual and the church working together (even if it doesn’t always feel like it) to assess whether there is a call and whether ordination is the right step to take.  There are the selection criteria: nine criteria that need to be met (or, as the bumpf puts it, “the areas of assessment in which Bishops’ Advisers need to be satisfied if they are to recommend a candidate for training”).  These criteria are Vocation; Ministry within the Church of England; Spirituality; Personality and Character; Relationships; Leadership and Collaboration; Faith; Mission and Evangelism; Quality of Mind.

And we talked about what a priest is and does.  We talked about sacraments and work and different roles and the like.  We talked about the frustrations of the role, and we talked about the church.  The meeting was just over an hour, I think.

The upshot of it is that Geraldine accepts that there’s a sense of call which needs to be further explored, and therefore we’ll press on with the process.  We’ll meet again in September ish, but in the meantime, I’ve got some reading to do, and some praying to do too!  I also need to get myself a spiritual director…

I’ve bought a bunch of books recommended by people who know the system and the process, and I’ve started a little green notebook on my own journey through the process.  It’ll hopefully chart the things I’m doing and how it’s all going, which will in turn inform the blogging.  And that was the notebook I was writing in in my hotel bar, with a hot chocolate on the table beside me, as I studied the call of Abraham.  But that’s for another blog, at another time.

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I’m sitting on a bench in the garden, working on my vitamin D uptake, and struggling to read what I’m writing because of the brightness of the reflection on my screen.  We’ve had a wonderful weekend, with old friends aplenty.  Mum and Dad are still here, but other than that, the house has returned to its emptier, quieter mode (the mode that operates during the holidays, for as much time as the boys are being nice to each other!)

We’ve just hosted a little reunion for people from my old school in Pakistan.  In many ways, I’d hoped for a bigger turnout, but, as it happens, we probably had the right sort of number to allow people to actually catch up with each other without missing out on the majority of guests.


It was wonderful to see everyone again, and I had an amazing day (and weekend!) enjoying the company of people whose friendship spans the decades.  I was thrilled that people were able to make it.  Some of them, I’d seen earlier this year, with others it had been longer.  One, I hadn’t seen since we were last at school together, and he left about 27 years ago!

Yet we all had a common experience.  There was a thread running through each of our lives that bound us to each other – we had all, as students, or staff, or parents, been connected to the same school.  Even for those who met for the first time yesterday (having not overlapped at school), there was a shared heritage.  We shared funny memories, and even funnier photos (I still haven’t decided whether or not to post some of them online…).  The memories of the everyday and the memories of the extraordinary.  Moments we cherish; stories we still tell; struggles that we witnessed and experienced; times of joy and laughter in our past that brought joy and laughter to our present.

And those things have left a mark.  I don’t just mean a physical mark, but the scar on my hand reminds me every time I look at it of the time I broke the McKee’s door handle in an attempt to get in (sorry Liz!).  But sometimes the other marks are deeper and more lasting.  Not all scars, of course, but things which shape us and make us who we are.  Probably sometimes without us even realising.  I’m sure it’s true for everyone to at least some extent, but there’s something special about meeting up with people who you grew up with.

People who saw me run, fall, work (occasionally), act, laugh, cry, climb, walk, ride.

People who heard me talk, sing, play music, pray, question, argue.

People who challenged me, comforted me, put up with me, helped me, amused me, valued me.

That shared heritage and common thread is very special.  I suspect I value it too highly at times, perhaps because of the particular circumstances of our departure (I don’t mean there was anything unusual, sinister or hard about it, merely that different circumstances must elicit different outcomes), and because of what I’m like.  But a common thread is a reminder of our connectedness.

And that got me thinking (no mean feat, given how tired I am!).  I suspect that it is always possible to find a common thread between me and another person.  There is probably always a thread in the rich tapestry of my life that is shared by others.  However different their life looks from mine, I suspect there is always something that could hold us together, if only I take time to look for it.  And I wonder if perhaps the job of looking for that thread is sometimes more important than I realise.  Because perhaps if I looked for the common thread, rather than focusing hard on the different pattern and the variation in weave; perhaps if I tried to find that thing which unites me to another person, rather than dwelling on the many differences that open up a chasm between us, maybe then, a bridge could be built across a gulf that might otherwise appear too wide.  I may be left with a relationship hanging by just a thread, but sometimes that thread will be enough; sometimes that thread will be all that is needed for a friendship to flourish.

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A house divided.

Some of you might recognise reference in that phrase to Abraham Lincoln’s speech, made in the context of slavery.  He argued that the Union could not be both for and against slavery – ‘half slave and half free’ as he put it.  He argued that one would prevail.  Either slavery would be accepted everywhere, or accepted nowhere.

Others might recognise that Lincoln borrowed the phrase ‘a house divided’ from Jesus.  Jesus is speaking in response to a claim by the teachers of the law that He was driving out demons in the name of the prince of demons.  Jesus responded, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”  His argument, which Lincoln borrowed, was that a divided kingdom would not stand; could not stand.

I am currently living in a divided kingdom.  On June 23rd, we in the UK voted to leave the EU.  Well, a slender majority of us did, anyway.  It’s not a legally binding vote, but it seems inevitable now that, in the fullness of time, the United Kingdom will cut off at least some of its ties with the European Union.

But one major problem we currently face is that we are not the United Kingdom in this matter.  We are a deeply divided one.  It seems that very few people occupied any sort of middle ground.  Rather, the debate has been one of extremes, and has thus fostered polarisation.  This has resulted in a lot of name-calling and jibes from both sides of the debate.  Remainers are cowardly for their lack of ambition and for succumbing to the fear-mongering.  Leavers are xenophobic for their desire to bring greater control to our borders.  Remainers lack confidence and vision, Leavers lack common sense and reason.

How must we in respond to this?

First, we must pray.  Not because the alternative to prayer is panic, but simply because the alternative to praying is not praying, and that’s not going to do anyone any good at all.  In prayer, we are forced to consider the bigger picture.  In prayer, we should be asking what God is asking of us, not simply giving him directions and planning His next move for Him.  We must pray only and always not that we get our own way, but that God gets His.  And we must be willing to work to that end, too.  We must pray not only for those ‘on our side’, but for those with whom we disagree.

We must also build bridges.  The campaign saw the rapid erection of numerous barriers, and the reinforcement of some already-established ones.  Barriers that divided communities, races, families.  You name it, there was a barrier for it.  Our Divided Kingdom needs re-uniting.  This is not time for gathering around our like-minded friends and cursing the opposition.  This is the time for reaching beyond those who mirror us, to those who offer contrast.  It is a time for those who voted Remain to work with those who voted Leave; to accept the democratic result of this referendum and to press forward.  If, on the other hand, you wish to fight against the result of the campaign, by all means do so in the short term, but if nothing changes, don’t expect that to be your last involvement in this.  We must not wash our hands of responsibility and leave it to the Leavers to pick up the pieces.  Those who voted Remain but failed to draw enough Leavers to their side are equally responsible for the outcome of this referendum.

We must seek truth and challenge lies.  Both sides in the campaign were guilty of presenting ideas, concepts, figures, outcomes and the like as truth, when they were at best guesswork and at worst, pure lies.  We need to challenge a culture of untruth.  This isn’t of course true only in the world of politics.  You only have to watch a football match for a few minutes to see players lying – you kick the ball out of play and then claim it’s your own team’s throw in.  You pretend a foul has happened when it really hasn’t.  But while it’s annoying in sport, it’s dangerous in politics.  Lies in politics have the power to damage lives.  We need to learn to discern truth, and to do our best to spread it, whilst at the same time exposing deceit and quoshing it.  This won’t be popular.

Flowing from the impact of the lies that are told, we must seek to support those who suffer as a result of the actions of politicians.  Now is the time for unity.  Now is the time to stand with others in their suffering, not simply to acknowledge it and to complain about the set of circumstances that led to it.

Now is also the time to look beyond Europe.  Not exclusively, of course, because we and Europe can still benefit one another.  But we have the opportunity following this referendum to broaden and deepen our global ties, rather than to sever them.  Of course, we may find it hard to establish trust (there’s that word again) with nations that have witnessed the events of the last week, but without them, we will shrink.  It may be a difficult task, as one sad outcome of the referendum is that there’s an extent to which xenophobia has been legitimised, but if enough people on both sides of the campaign fight against this blinkered view, there is yet hope.

I could go on (let’s face it, I often do) but I think that’s enough for me to be working on at the moment.  By all means add your own vision in the comments section.  And let’s press on with hope.

I’ll finish with this youtube thingy (if it works!)  A useful reminder for me that the really important things in my life are unshakeable.  A birth that brings a new hope.

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Any distinguishing marks?

Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook:

Saw a sign today saying, ‘We want our country back’.
Utterly, utterly useless.
I mean, it’s completely lacking any sort of information. It begs so many questions. For example:
What does your country look like? Any distinguishing marks?
Where did you leave it, or where were you when you last remember having it?
And, perhaps most importantly, if you’re actually stupid enough to have lost an entire country, why on earth should we give it back if we happen to find it?

It seemed to amuse some people (or perhaps they were just being polite).  But I then got to pondering it all.  Particularly that phrase ‘Any distinguishing marks?’  And I found myself wondering what the distinguishing marks of our country are.  Or even, what would I like the distinguishing marks of our country to be?  (You know, if we were choosing a new tattoo for our country, what would we go for?)

What are we known for?  A Stiff Upper Lip seems to be something that we like to consider ourselves to be in possession of.  But that’s gone out the window in the last couple of weeks of arguing over the in/out question.  (Excuse me for a moment while my mind boggles over the concept of a stiff upper lip going out the window).  More like a sharp tongue and a nasty bite than a stiff upper lip.  I’ve said before how worried I am about the divisive nature of the debate.  I get that people will disagree with each other, but the amount of venom that has been employed is both saddening and terrifying in equal measure.

So what would I like our country to be marked by?  What should our distinguishing marks be?

It seems that many want us to be seen as independent.  Boris even referred to tomorrow as being our very own ‘Independence Day’.  Odd choice of phrase.  I suspect this is a bit of a bitter description for those countries who’ve had to shed sweat and blood to gain their independence from us after we’d forcibly taken their freedom and self-rule.  The independence Boris seeks is from a treaty we willingly signed, not the result of a war we lost.  But why must we be independent?  I’m married with two kids.  I could plump for independence again, I’m perfectly capable of ‘standing on my own two feet’, but that would be hideously wrong, and fly in the face of both the promises I made, and the decisions I’ve made in the past to create a family, to be a part of something bigger.  Rather than being known as an independent country, I’d prefer to be seen as a dependable one.  Sure, standing on your own two feet is all well and good, but I’d like it if we as a country did our best to help others stand too.  Not so we can all go our separate ways, but so that we can support each other when we need it.  Standing on your own, with no-one to lean on, can be tiring after a while…

What about the economy?  It seems that both sides think that voting their way will give us the financial upper hand.  (Sounds like a win win situation!)  In church on Sunday, our vicar asked a very challenging question.  He was talking about being ‘better off’, and asked, “What do you think Jesus would mean if He was talking about being ‘better off’?”  A useful reminder that it’s not all about having more money to spend on yourself.  So instead of being viewed as a country with the upper hand, I’d like us to be seen as a country with an open hand.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should be the kings of the bailout.  But as the fifth largest economy in the world (or ninth largest, depending on how it’s measured) I feel we have a duty to support others.  Sure, some people might take advantage, but actually, the vast majority are likely to appreciate and respond appropriately to generosity.  Tightening up the delivery of aid would surely be a better approach than shutting the doors altogether.  I was really encouraged and moved to hear John Barnes use the word ‘compassion’ more than once in an interview with Sky News this week.  It’s a word that hasn’t had much airtime in the course of the debate.

And what about migrants?  Another of the facetious questions I posed was ‘what does your country look like?’  And I think that’s a bit of a stumbling block for some people.  Most people won’t actually come out and say that just want a white English (dating back a good few generations) race filling up our island.  But there seems to be a definite inclination towards at least a good majority of people who fit into this category.  But that’s simply not what our world is like these days.  Even in the depths of the darkest jungle (you know, the kind of place Paddington came from) it must be rare to find tribes who’ve had no contact with the outside world.  Because we move.  We travel, we explore, we learn, we work.  And that’s healthy.  We are more diversely connected than ever before.  Migrants don’t come here and take our jobs (if they were our jobs, we’d have them!).  They come here and serve our communities.  They come and enrich our neighbourhoods.  From them we can learn about other cultures, and our culture can grow and change with their arrival.  Our eyes can be opened to a broader perspective.  Sure, we won’t like it all, and some may even need to be robustly challenged.  But I’d rather our country was defined by friendship than by fear.  Our world has changed, and pretending that we’ll ever stop being a delightfully muddled up and multi-cultural nation is venturing into cloud-cuckoo land.  Having an open door will always involve risk, yes.  But it’s risk that can be managed, and the rewards reaped as a result of many of those who come through that door are plentiful, if only we’ll open our eyes.

Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, I hope you’ll be able to accept the decisions made in this democratic process, and that you’ll use the opportunities we have in our country to bring changes that offer hope and a future to many.  I hope that the rifts that have been created over these last few weeks, rifts which will doubtless be firmly established following tomorrow’s vote, will be healed by those on both sides talking to each other, and working with each other to bring hope and strength to both our nation and our neighbours.  I hope that compassion will drive us to be a nation with distinctive marks.  I hope we will be a nation known for its dependability, open-handedness and friendship.

What distinguishing marks would you like us to bear?

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