Tuesday, 17 April 2007

friends, tech-support, golf, binbags, spiritual direction...

We had a good Easter break during which we saw several friends, some of whom we hadn't spent time with in ages. It was good to catch up. I also made a start on the office clear-out and had the first of my birthday golf-lessons. It was quite encouraging... the pro said that I had a natural gift for the game and that with a few minor tweaks to my swing there was no reason why in a few months I couldn't be down to a single-figure handicap and.... and then I woke up.

Then there was the day and and half of Tech Support... Judith's work laptop suddenly started behaving strangely, causing much panic as she had some course work on it NOT BACKED UP. I managed to salvage that OK after a couple of hours, but it turned out the problems were because the Hard Drive had started to die. The last Mac laptop HD I replaced was very simple, just lifted the keyboard and there it was, so I bought a new one... only to discover on this model it's a major take-to-bits job. Fortunately via good ol' Google I found a step-by-step guide with photographs. It still took several hours, but I'm glad to say the transplant was successful Doctor and the patient made a full recovery. Great time-savers these computers...

This week I've continued the office clear-out, a job which is proving much more time-consuming than I thought. A number of items have been given away via the Manchester Freecycle Group (see: http://uk.freecycle.org), a few sold on Ebay and a LOT dumped into binbags. Yesterday I went through 3 boxes of floppy discs, destroying any that might contain State Secrets, and purged another bunch of old files c/o a shredder (anyone need a mattress stuffing?)

Today was a reading day at Nazarene Theological College (NTC). The morning was reading more of "Into The Silent Land" by Martin Laird, and in the afternoon I read and made notes on ALL of 'The Church in the Back Streets' by Stanley Evans. Impressed? Actually, it's only 49 pages! But good stuff if a bit Anglican in places. More of the same tomorrow.

I said last time I'd say more about what came out of the day with the 'Spiritual Director'. After the emphasis on the importance of the 'Rest' part of my sabbatical 3 R's (the other two being Reflection and Re-focus) we looked at the importance of understanding my rhythm and the need to find one for after my sabbatical so, ideally, I don't get as tired and unbalanced again.

We then looked at how I function in ministry and came up with the words 'builder', 'shaper', 'developer', 'provoker' - enabling things to function, connect, run, fulfill their purpose, and giving leadership in those areas. Looking ahead (beginnings of the Re-focus bit) there was a sense of needing to sort out things to leave behind, and things I'd want to take further. Russ had a picture of me stretchering people from one place to another, the implication being that it was time to let them walk on their own now.

We looked at a verse in 2 Chronicles which talks about re-casting and the importance of covering and protection while this is going on (this is where your prayers come in folks!) and of giving time for cooling and solidification into the new shape. Thoughts of re-tooling and adding skills, and also of reproducing myself - i.e. finding and envisioning and/or training others to do the sorts of things I've been doing. This is all pretty vague at the moment, but hopefully more details will emerge as time goes on. One thing that did come to mind during a time of prayer was an old image one of the Urban Presence Trustees shared of Derek and I being on bungee ropes. This was in the context of a discussion about us participating in occasional events outside of Manchester and the idea was of always bouncing back here - i.e. what we did elsewhere would come out our experience here and would relate back to it. Could this indicate more work further afield?

Near the end of the day Russ felt a clear sense that God was fashioning a new tool for me, that I'd be able to pick things up and lay them down in an easier way than before. I'd need to lean a new skill in using this tool, but that would not be difficult. Encouraging.

Something someone else sent me last week which she felt may have been from God fits so well with a lot of this: "Don't confuse a willingness to serve with an obligation to do the jobs no-one else wants/get round to doing. You can choose to be a facilitator or step into the fullness of the ministry God has uniquely for you but you can't do both things well. Don't be tempted at the end of your sabbatical to pick up everything you laid down, not even with the intention of it being short term until a replacement is found. Take the opportunity to only pick up those things you are going to concentrate on." Nice.

One other thing... several weeks ago another friend emailed me Isaiah 8 v16-20. It puzzled me a bit at the time, but together with a couple of other things I've read or heard that have struck me, it now makes sense. In working in a 'mission with' situation it is important to be clear about your boundaries, guarding a distinctive Christian ethos and integrity and being aware of the dangers of signing up to the values and reference points of your not-necessarily-Christian co-workers. See the final 2 verses The passage also talks of disciples and having children, which could refer to finding and working with others.

All interesting stuff, eh? Your thoughts, comments, reactions, accusations of heresy etc are all welcome.

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Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Up to date

OK. I've transferred the three relevant previous posts from my other blog and now we're up to date.

So, just over 3 weeks into the Sabbatical/Study Leave (S/SL) and what has happened?

- A few days away on my own as described earlier.

- The first of three meetings (beginning, middle, end) with a 'Spiritual Director'. Very useful. He emphasised the importance of bodily rest during this time (as it might be the last for a while!) and we did a helpful analysis of where I am up to and how I have been functioning in ministry as a basis for beginning to seek out how God might be leading and developing me, particularly when I 're-enter'. More on this anon.

- A meeting with Dwight Swanson at the Nazarene Theological College. As well as being on the staff there Dwight is Chair of Urban Presence and will be giving me some academic supervision. The college has been really helpful and I now have an NTC library card. My reading and thinking so far has been quite broadly around the notion of 'Mission With'. i.e. working together with others - not just Christians - on an issue of common concern, as compared with 'Mission for' where we have much more control and direction. This is what I have been doing with Carisma and PeaceWeek and with a different emphasis, Street Pastors... and I'm trying to do some theological back-filling! Scriptural basis, limits, dangers. Already I've picked up on a couple of models to look at ('Avec' - George Lovell, 'Co-belligerance and Common Grace') as well as the obvious ones such as 'Make Poverty History', Jubilee 2000, abolition of slavery etc. I've also been doing some reading on contemplation, including re-reading 'Poustinia' and 'The Gospel without Compromise' by Catherine de Hueck Doherty and in the latter actually found some inspiring stuff on identification which feeds back nicely into the 'mission with' thing.

- A few days in Northern Ireland visiting my mum and sister and catching up with some old friends, plus getting some more reading done.

- Just back from a belated birthday celebration: a long weekend away with Judith in the Lake District. We based ourselves in Grange-over-Sands in the South and spent a day sailing and walking around Lake Windermere and another at Grasmere finishing off with a meal at The Priest Hole in Ambleside (recommended). I also had a round of golf which wasn't too depressing. On the way home we called in at the big second hand bookshop in Carnforth and I managed to pick up a copy of 'The Church in the Back Streets' by Stanley Evans, an urban ministry classic much quoted by Kenneth Leech. Now added to the reading list.

At the end of April I'm off again to a Maranatha weekend at Benburb Priory in Northern Ireland. This is a place I last visited on a retreat about 30 years ago and had an amazing time walking in the grounds and by the river with their two Irish Wolfhounds and Red Setter. (I somehow don't think they'll still be there, but maybe some of their descendants will be!) I'll also stay on for a few days in Belfast with mum again.

Between now and then I shall be continuing to give my office a thorough clear out, re-jigging some computer and PA equipment (all a part of the 're-focus' aspect of the S/SL) and doing more reading about and around 'Mission with'.

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Sabblog, week 1

[originally posted March 17]

Sabbatical/Study Leave week one...

A few weeks ago a sabbatical veteran gave me some advice... "If you're spending most of your sabbatical 'on site', as soon as possible after it starts go completely away just for a few days. It makes a break with your previous pace of life and gets other people used to your not being available."

So... c/o some generous friends, I've just got back from spending a few days in their cottage in a little village called Ravenstonedale, about where the Yorkshire Dales blur into the Lake District. No internet connection, no mobile signal. Nice to have 48 hours with no phone calls, emails or callers to get me started into what is intended to be a different pattern for the next six months. Quite a contrast coming just after PeaceWeek etc. Not that I'm shutting myself off entirely, by the way, but space has to be made for the other stuff lined up for this S/SL, including of course some rest.

While away I walked (through wind, rain and MUD!!) to an amazing Victorian Railway viaduct, now disused but restored about 15 years ago by the Northern Viaduct Trust.

While wandering around an unbidden thought popped into my head. (I've known this to be God speaking in the past - though this time it could be a blip from a mind affected by damp and 90 minutes walking). Just like the viaduct links two sides of a valley, so I have been placed between two cultures or groups - local community and local church. And, like the viaduct, mostly disused(!), However, it is important to stay there as a potential crossing point. Does that make any sense??!! The comparison should not be pushed any further thankyou (jokes about age and restoration etc..!)

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HBT me

[Originally posted on March 12]

#2 is reached. Such a landmark when one reaches the changeover of the 10's digit in age. Apparently. Not surprisingly I feel no different from yesterday. Nice to indulge in some PRESENTS however!!

Also sabbatical day 3, which I have decreed a day off. It's my birthday, I'm allowed.

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Sabblog Day One

I've decided to set up a dedicated Sabbatical Blog. Here it is

[Originally posted on March 10 on my other blog.]

OK. Today is Sabbatical/Study Leave (S/SL) Day One. I made it. These last few weeks, taking in preparation for PeaceWeek*, PW itself, and a whole stack of loose end-tying and "could you just before you go" jobs, have left me somewhat exhausted. I don't know if it's linked but I also have developed a red (though thankfully non-itchy and non-contagious) rash over most of my upper body in the last 10 days. Anyone know what it is? My GP doesn't! He gave me some cream to rub on it which I think could be re-packaged toothpaste for all the difference it's making so far.

(*interrupted by preparation at 48 hours notice for a visit to these parts from Rt Hon Tony Blair involving two meetings which Street Pastors and Carisma were asked to facilitate. As I'm involved in both...)

The websites I've linked to just there have more about PeaceWeek and the PM's visit. Both went well.

I'm told that the first while of the S/SL will be detoxing... winding down, clearing up a few more loose-ends, but most importantly Making The Break in terms of daily pattern, don't expect too much too soon. So, on some advice from a Sabbatical Veteran I've booked a few days away next week. And a few more the week after. And a few more the week after that, this time with Judith.

More about the plans for the next few months anon. My plan is to use this space for some random thoughts, prayer requests (a big hello to members of my Monthly Email Prayer News which this will be replacing for a while) and to log stuff I want to remember from what I'll be reading. Responses very welcome.

Now for Cusp #2...