Questions.

Who am I?
Where am I going?
Am I getting it right?
Why can’t I stop?
Why is it all so unfair?
Are we nearly there yet?

I guess it’s safe to assume I’m not the only one who’s asking questions.  Though sometimes I feel like we rush into the answers, and so the questions themselves don’t get the time.  They don’t get turned over and over, examined, probed and prodded.  They don’t get investigated, they aren’t allowed to hang in the air, because the air is being filled with the answers before the question’s even finished.

And the question that just isn’t getting itself out of my head at the moment is that fifth one in the list.  That list of questions you just sailed through up there at the start of this post.

Why is it all so unfair?

I’m letting water out of the bath and I’m thinking about the water my kids have just washed in.  I’m wondering how many people that much water could have kept alive just for another day.  Because there’ll be another bath tomorrow.

I’m splitting wood for the fire.  And as I toss it into the wheelbarrow, I find myself thinking that that wood, which makes a pretty fire in our centrally-heated house, could perhaps keep someone warm for just another day.  Maybe keep them alive one more cold night.  And there’s always plenty of wood to split around here.  Plenty for tomorrow.  And the next day.

And then I take the wheelbarrow of wood to the wood store.  And on the way through the orchard, I can’t help treading on the windfall apples.  We’ve turned hundreds into crumbles, and had hundreds pressed to make juice, but we simply can’t use them all.  And maybe you can figure out what I’m thinking as I tread on those apples.

It’s all so unfair.

It makes me ache for justice.  But it feels like I’m a bit stuck.  It’s not like I can box up some apples and send them to a starving family.  And I don’t think anyone’s going to want my boys’ bathwater…

Why is it all so unfair?

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Ordination blogging, round 3.

I am so far behind with this blogging malarkey. My first ordination blog, about my second ‘chat with the vicar’ was posted back at the start of May.  The second blog about my first meeting with the DDO came at the end of July.  Since then, I’ve had another chat with the vicar, a couple of meetings with the DDO, and have attended the first two sessions of a vocations course.  I’ve got some catching up to do.

Between the meetings, I’ve also spent a fair bit of time reading and thinking and praying (sometimes all at the same time).  Today’s blog is going to steer away from the meetings, and shine a light on the time I’ve had myself to look through things and to ponder.

A pretty useful first port of call is the booklet, ‘Ministry in the Church of England’.  This has been a great foundation.  And I’m continuing to write stuff down, and stick stuff in, in my little green notebook.  I imagine I’ll be onto the second notebook before long!  It’s just useful having a place where I can jot down stuff in meetings, and also keep a sort of ongoing journal of my own thoughts and discoveries.

My last meeting with the DDO acknowledged that there was a call to be explored.  So exploration was the next step.  The Ministry in the Church of England booklet posed four useful questions under the heading ‘What are the marks of a vocation?’.  It was to these questions that I initially turned.

  • Do you have an internal sense of call?  Well, I’ve already said that, yes, I do.  But in a way it would be nice if it was a little clearer.  I still have little idea of the details of that to which I’m called.  (Reminds me of the phrase from that song by Ben Cantalon, ‘I know that you will give enough light, for the next step…’)  I feel there’s a call to the priesthood, but can’t really say more than that.  Parish ministry is the most obvious, but certainly not the only option.  I should add, though, that currently, I’m feeling pretty stagnant about my Christian life, and so am questioning myself and any perception of a calling.  I don’t want this blog to convey the impression that I’m just sailing gracefully through these waters…  It’s not all plain sailing.
  • Has your sense of call been recognised by others?  For this, I turned to Facebook.  I posted, ‘So; chatting with the vicar later about ordination… Feel free to pray’.  And in response, I got 42 likes, and a whole host of comments, unanimously positive.  So I guess that’s a good start.  Conversations, both before and after this process ‘began’, have also served to point me in this direction, or to confirm that this is a good direction to head in.
  • Is your sense of call realistic?  Basically meaning, could I honestly do it?  Of course, there’s that phrase, ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called’.  But is it realistic to think that I could enter the priesthood?  I suppose the responses on Facebook are an encouraging start, but that’s not the whole story, is it?  Because they don’t necessarily know all the arguments against, but I do.  And yet, the examples of calling in the Bible (and I’ll come back to some of them in another post) show God calling people who are flawed.  They’re not even always willing to do it, but He calls anyway.  So I kind of feel like responding, in the words of the baptism service, ‘with the help of God, I will’.  I wrote this response in my notebook:  “On a good day (with a following wind), yes :)  It would be a stark change of pace from now, but that’s true of almost any ‘real job’.  And I’d have to be much more disciplined about work, given I’d be largely ‘independent’.  But it’s remarkable what God can achieve through us if we allow Him.”
  • Is your sense of call informed?  Do I know what I’m letting myself in for.  And I suppose I do.  Obviously, Mum having been ordained gives a pretty good insight.  But I’ve known a fair number of priests, some really quite well.  I know that the job is sometimes grim.  The parishioners are sometimes horrible, and the mess the people get themselves and others into can be pretty spectacular.  I’m no more a fan of committee meetings than the next guy.  And the burdens to be borne are heavy indeed.  So I think I’m fairly informed.  That’s not to say nothing would ever surprise me in ministry.  But I don’t think I’d be going into it blind.

And actually, that was a really useful place to start thinking a bit more intentionally and directedly about the whole thing.  And I’m going to wrap this blog post up there.  Partly because it’s just gone 11, and I need my sleep, but also partly because I don’t think it’s particularly useful to cram everything into one blog post (regardless of how much catching up I still have to do!).

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Trump Card.

This is just a little follow up to my Tuesday post on the American election.

The votes have been counted (well, enough to make the outcome clear, anyway).  And Trump has it.  The Republicans have it.

And I concluded that perhaps this election was a bit like turning up at the bus stop to wait for your bus.  You see two buses coming down the road towards you.

One is the bus that’s going to your destination.  But my goodness, to say it’s being driven by a maniac would be an understatement.  It’s swerving all over the place, and you know you’re in for a bumpy ride.  There’s hooting, and you’re pretty sure you can hear the bus driver hollering something not altogether friendly.  There’s even a niggling suspicion that the ride could be outright dangerous, both for the passengers, and for anyone sharing the same road.

But the other bus, driven by someone whose approach looks altogether less risky, is not going your way.  In fact, at the next turning, it’s going in a completely different direction altogether.  And why would you want to get on a bus that takes you further away from your destination than you are at the moment?

What choice would you make?  You could get on the risky bus and hope you all get there safely.  You might be able to encourage the driver to take more care.  You might even secretly hope he’ll let someone else drive the bus instead.  Or you could get on the bus that’s going the wrong way, and hope they’ll have a change of heart about their intended destination.  You could get on it and chat with your fellow passengers and try to convince them of the appeal of your destination over theirs.  Engage with them.

But the basic problem is, you’ve got to do something.  And it feels like there isn’t a right and wrong answer, instead, there are two wrong answers; it’s just a question of choosing the answer which is less wrong.  And sometimes that’s an altogether harder prospect.

So I really feel for my American friends.  I’ll be praying for them, that whatever the decision they made, and however they’re feeling about the outcome right now, they will still hold onto hope.  I pray that they’ll engage with things as well.  Maybe now would be a good time to contact the bus company and ask for changes in the way they do things.  How did that guy ever end up driving a bus?  And why do we only have two destinations to choose from?

I suppose there’s a little cynicism too.  I Tweeted this on Wednesday, for example:

Yes, it sounds odd.  And it’s difficult to imagine that he’ll be any good at it.  But there’s a constant challenge for all of us to avoid allowing cynicism to overwhelm hope.  Think of the stars.  The darker the night, the brighter the stars.  Hope is a wonderful thing.  And I think that maybe hope is the trump card that needs to be played right about now.

…then you will shine among them, like stars…  Philippians 2:15

img_2660-2

So, my American friends in particular, this one’s for you.  What is your hope built on?

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What’s on the cards?

It’s a bit of a momentous day, on the other side of the Pond, isn’t it?  Clinton or Trump, who will it be?  I don’t envy my American friends their decision today.  I suspect I’d want to vote Republican for their policies, but would be very worried about Trump in leadership.  Clinton has the better experience of the two, but I wouldn’t agree with a fair amount of her party’s policies (which strikes me as pretty key…).

But the whole thing seems to have been pretty acrimonious.  In a sense, that’s no surprise.  America is a somewhat adversarial place (I know that’s a somewhat sweeping statement, but bear with me).  I remember being surprised, when visiting the States, to see a Nesquik advert on the telly that slagged off another chocolate drink manufacturer.  (Or it might have been Nesquik being slagged off – the details don’t matter).  I found myself thinking that was a profoundly weird way to advertise.  In the UK, we’re used to advertisers claiming that their product is the best/coolest/cheapest etc., but they don’t usually resort to slagging off the opposition.  So it doesn’t come as a great shock that Presidential hopefuls seem to spend as much time slagging off the opposition as they spend on actually saying what they themselves are planning to do.

But this leads to a great difficulty – it reminds me of a snippet of a line from a Casting Crowns song; ‘nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against…’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the States might feel a bit like that.  Sure, they know Trump’s going to build a wall, but there doesn’t seem to have been much useful input in the race to the Whitehouse.  Of course, living on this side of the Atlantic makes it harder to see the fuller picture, but it just seems to be erring on the side of aggression rather than information.  And that would make the decision harder to make.

And whoever wins looks set to be the least popular winner of all time.  Barack Obama was an historic choice, as the nations first black president.  Likewise, Clinton would be the first woman in the hotseat.  Yet it doesn’t seem that there would be quite such eagerness to celebrate that.

It doesn’t seem like the rage is going to go away.  I suppose it’s bound to settle down in time, but it seems like it will bubble on for a while.  The fact that Trump is claiming he’ll challenge the result in the event of a Clinton win doesn’t help.

So I guess my prayer is for wisdom for American voters.  Like I said at the start of this post, I don’t envy them their decision.  But my prayer is also for unity.  I’ve been annoyed, since Trump started using the phrase, by his claim that he’s going to ‘Make America Great Again’.  I’m annoyed, because I’m a pedant, and am forced to point out that ‘Making Britain Great Again’ makes perfect sense (it is ‘Great Britain’, after all), but what the next American leader needs to do is not to make America great again (let’s face it, it’s pretty much at the top of the tree anyway).  No, the next leader needs to Make America United Again.  The United States came together many years ago, but it seems like the divisions have never been clearer.  While some historical divides might be seeing some healing, the divisions that have been emphasised in this election, as the battle lines have been drawn, are a cause for great concern.

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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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