Paul and I were at a great conference for those engaging with children and young people in Coventry Diocese on Saturday and enjoyed listening to Lynn Alexander sharing her experience. The picture is one of her slides which I am continuing to ponder on and consider the transferability of the concept to other dimensions of my ministry. It was good to hear someone talk about theological preparation and for me to reflect on that in the light of my role in theological education. I am seeing the Holy Spirit calling people at different stages of their lives including after retirement from work as well as at the beginning of possibly a life time calling to work with young people. I am seeing diverse groups of people become family and seeing people achieve far more than they dreamt possible. This involves a cultural shift against some of the more consumeristic or value for money approaches to training for ministry I have sometimes encountered. Structural change which liberates and empowers lay ministry is to be welcomed.
Well over half a life time ago I saw the Boomtown Rats at Finsbury Park Rainbow. Monday I put on a greatest hits CD in the car as I drove home as I couldn’t fine a radio station I wanted to listen to. We had been decluttering at work and I found a stash of old CDs – I have worked in the same place for 20 years now so some of them were old! I sang along to Rat Trap at full volume. As I did I was saddened that a song which is over forty years old still seems so pertinent today. I can picture people and places as I sing it now just as I could back when it first came out. I also realised that throughout my career I have had a passion for working with people like the Billy of the song. That may seem a little odd to those of you who know what I do but for many people education is one of the options to ‘find a way out’. The thought that ‘hope bites the dust behind all the closed doors’ makes me grieve and when I think back over the years I have been involved in education my mind goes to Maria, to Jenny, to others where I began to see a glimmer of hope. Ultimately my hope is in Christ and a decision to follow Jesus as a teenager is what made such a significant difference to me. I wasn’t in a ‘rat trap’ as in the song but still needed to be set free. I am very grateful for the privilege of being involved in theological education where we seek to support people in finding their vocation and fulfilling their God-given potential. Singing the song was very cathartic. After a long day of meetings it was good to remember one of the things that motivates me.
Today was one of my favourite teaching days, the first for a module on supporting work based learning. I read this book too late to include this quotation but supporting work based learning is often about helping people see these threads, threads which help them explore their vocation. I love the opportunity to help people explore resources which may reveal something of their journey and the weaving of the story.
“You must keep collecting threads—threads of meaning, threads of hope, threads of purpose, energy and will— along with all the knowledge, skill that every weaver needs. You must keep on weaving—stopping sometimes only to repair your broken loom—weave a cloak of warmth”
On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old” by Parker J. Palmer – read on my Kindle.
This was projected on a wall at Buckfast Abbey as part of their celebrating 1000 years exhibition.
One of the joys of my work is seeing a growing sense of vocation in our students and others I work with. I am grateful that others helped me see mine as a young person and it feels like over many years I have worked out this vocation in different situations and contexts. Sometimes it has been in paid work, other times as a volunteer but there is such a sense of fulfilment in being who God created me to be. We have some vocation questions to think about elsewhere on this site and recommend a book called Sleeping with Bread to help people explore this whole area.
A thought from Kierkegaard at the beginning of another year:
What I really need is to be clear about what I am to do, not about what I must know…It is a question of understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Deity really wants me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die…
While in many ways I have found this, I find it helpful to regularly revisit my understanding of what God is calling me to be and do as there are often nuances, fresh glimpses, a revelation which offers a different perspective At the beginning of a new year, that is something I am taking some time to think and pray about…
Quote from Kierkegaard journal cited in Douglas Groothuis Philosophy in seven sentences IVP 2016 p123
In many ways I don’t like selfies as I look at them and see all the lines and wrinkles. But the lines and wrinkles are part of who I am, the life I’ve lived, the years that have passed. I chose this picture because it epitomizes for me one of those times when I feel most fully alive, walking by the sea. It is when walking by the sea that God in nature is most vocal to me.
Last weekend was the bag of books and hotel weekend. I want to share the opening paragraph of the first book I read as it is perhaps one of the most important concepts I know:
You have a place in this world. It is a place where awkwardness dissolves and you are most fully alive, therefore most fully human. You know this place very well, though you may feel far from it. Take a deep breath and hold it briefly. You know this place. You may not always know how to get to it, but you recognize it every time. Likely you first sensed its existence in early childhood. Over the subsequent course of your life, you may have stumbled into – and out of – this place of aliveness many times, especially during periods of significant upheaval or transition. These were brief moments of awakening when something way down inside suddenly lept to attention and cried, “Home!”
Sitting with a bag of books and reading and reading and reading feels like home to me. I have always loved books and ideas and concepts and that ability to get lost in a world for a while. Even though every book I read had a connection with my ministry it didn’t feel like work because it felt so privileged, precious and lifegiving. This feels like a blessed period of my life when I feel at home in my vocational choices. It has not always been so and I am aware that many I know still feel like they are in the dark wood of the title of the book I was reading.
Gifts of the Dark Wood Eric Elnes Nashville Abingdon Press 2015
“Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness…is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Helen Keller
I have so many things I am grateful to God for but very close to the top of the list is that I have a strong sense of calling and purpose. While study, teaching, writing, ordination and the like are a part of it I can find fulfillment in that sense of purpose in little everyday things too. On Sunday I preached on the story of the feeding of the 5000 and one of the things I talked about was how we can all bring people to Jesus in prayer even if we are not in a position to introduce people to Jesus in other days and I shared a story of a simple prayer and seeing it answered. There are many challenges in pursuing our purpose – misunderstandings, set backs, confusion but there is always that underlying core of happiness or perhaps joy may be a better word in doing what God created me to do.