stepping out of the circle

stepIt’s been a little quite here.
There is a reason for that.
I have been immersed.
Immersed in teaching, in planning and in more teaching and planning.
One extra thing I have taken on this year to aid my income has been a day of GCSE geography teaching in the school I am also chaplain at.

While teaching and being with the young people is great … planning is taking me an age. I keep telling myself it will get easier … and I believe that … it’s just that planning GCSE geography is not getting that much easier just yet … but it will be!
One of my challenges is that I teach a double lesson each Wednesday … that is 3 hours of Geography …. so I want and need to be creative to keep students engaged … for 3 hours!

So …. I have entered a bit of a circle.
A circle that I know holds back my creativity and does not allow me to express how I am.

I am a reflective practitioner.
I need to reflect to do what I do.
When I reflect, it is then that I can link with whatever it is that helps me to create.
When I have too much to do I don’t feel I have time to reflect.
So I don’t.
And I can’t create.
But I know when I reflect I work smarter or quicker
But I have no time
And so the circle continues … and continues …
So this blog has been quiet
But I am writing …. so I am stepping out of the circle

I have things to write again …
And I will …

we are all cracked …

crackvase_litex3I have now been blogging for 10 years. I’ve checked and I started (again) on May 12 2004 after a few failed attempts … but SHP seems to have kept going … sometimes regularly, sometimes not, but always kept going with something.

I started this as a reflective exercise … and in the main that is what SHP still is for me … a tool for reflection and to invite reflection / comment from others. Engaging with other people and hearing of others experiences around ‘stuff’ that matters to me is and continues to be an energising and often challenging experience.  An unexpected and incredibly positive sideline is that the presence of this blog has enabled me to find new friends, some of whom I have met, and some who are encouraging and thought provoking from a distance … some even on different sides of oceans!

One such friend who I nearly met while in Yorkshire on holiday is Graham, a Methodist minister, who blogs over at Digging a Lot. His posts regularly inspire me … and today his words cause me to simply acknowledge with a slightly tearful nod of agreement. Before saying more, as Graham says, first you need to listen to this song … or at least the opening couple of minutes if Leonard Cohen is not your style ..

I seem to hang out, get on, and prefer to be with those who know they are cracked and broken. I am totally at home in one place I visit simply because the people there know they are broken. They don’t hide it, they don’t pretend but simply acknowledge it as being part of who they are. Interestingly many of these people would say that having me listening helps them personally …. but being with these broken cracked people has caused me to admit increasingly that I, too, am cracked and broken. In this particular setting, and with certain particular people that I hang out with there, this also has not been hidden and has been totally accepted. I believe honesty is kind of necessary for community to grow …

It is as if we journey together with our cracks in a brokenness that we understand, acknowledge, accept … but also hope that as we travel and encounter God in a new way .. that some form of healing or restoration will occur. BUT … and this is a BIG but … I am not sure I want my cracks to disappear completely, nor am I sure I wish to be totally restored … and maybe I don’t even believe total restoration can happen this side of eternity …because if I don’t have cracks and breaks … how do people see God shining through … and how can I ‘let the light in’? If I am restored and fixed how can I possibly relate meaningfully to broken people in a fucked up world?

To make a difference in a broken world …. I wonder …. do you first need to be broken … not broken and restored … but simply broken … aware of that brokenness … embracing it as part of life … and believing it will change … but probably not fully until Christ returns … 

A few years ago I loved this poster from Christian Aid. ‘I believe in Life before Death’ is still a mantra I hold close to in my understanding of Christianity. I don’t think ‘being broken’ means we are not living. Actually … I wonder if admitting to brokenness … and so embracing our vulnerability actually means we are then able to live a fuller life (John 10:10 and all that jazz!)

The thing about brokenness, I guess, is the healthy gritty reality that accompanies it … so thank you Graham for inspiring me today …. and I shamelessly end with your words …

often I have been in tears
by the light
coming from people who say
‘I am not much
nothing special’

in my  limited experience … it is those who really are
the special, valuable, precious ones

Bible believing???

bibleI like to be challenged … no … really I do. I love a great discussion. One thing I particularly enjoy is pub theo (which happens tonight, 7.45pm at the Dog and Bone with great curry – shameless plug!!!) because people come to talk, are generally open to listening to each other which sometimes results in people changing an opinion.

Over the last few weeks, though, I seem to have come across quite a fair bit of cliche conversation stoppers … such as “well … I’m a Bible believing Christian’ … or … ‘You can’t pick and choose .. you have to believe ALL the Bible’. I have come to see these as conversation stoppers because they have been used that way … to stop me in my tracks with the expectation that the discussion should not stop … dead … there and then! Sorted! One way and all that!

Faith Interrupted writes well about this today.  I love Brian McLaren’s words that are quoted …

The Bible is too good and too important to be left to those who won’t think critically about it. And frankly, it’s too dangerous! 


One place to do some of that critical stuff is pub theo now and again … it’s important … it’s fun … don’t close the conversation … open it … lets challenge each other!

the cut outs


I called in to the Matisse exhibition today at the Tate modern. For my birthday I was given a Tate Membership and I have been waiting for a good time to start it. Today was that day.

The exhibition is amazing. I will return, hopefully more than once, before it closes in September.

In a couple of rooms were video displays in which you could watch Matisse at work. I was struck by the vulnerability and trust that he showed. In his final years before his death, although he was able to cut the shapes himself he relied on his assistants for positioning those shapes. We see his assistants watching him intently as he directs them where to place each shape, how to rotate them, where the overlap should be … and so on. Every single piece of the ‘canvas’ ends up exactly where the artist wants it to be. Exactly. There is seemingly no room for error!  To get to this, though, Matisse makes himself vulnerable and puts his reputation in the hands of these people.

It would be easy to argue that this is not vulnerability. At the end of the day, it could be said, the people put the shapes up and Matisse would eventually have said ‘ok … that’s fine’ … pretty much like the rest of us might do out of either exasperation or not wishing to offend. In one scene in a video, however, you sense frustration on both sides … frustration from the artist as the person is not hearing or reading where and how a particular shape could be placed …. and frustration on the assistant as seemingly  the artists is being bloody minded and surely this is good enough.

Matisse exhibits vulnerability to the extent of being left alone with no help. I wonder if the were times when the assistants just wanted to scream, ‘I’ve had enough … I’m out if here!’ Maybe not … but I sensed there could have been.

I was particularly humbled as I watched Matisse at work and looked at his art as I moved from room to room. The rooms are set out in a rough chronological order. As Matisse gets older, more infirm, and seemingly less in control of his fine motor skills his works of art become more intricate, complex, ambitious and beautifully crafted.

I loved a lot of this work, but two rooms in particular struck me and caused me to pause … well it was more of a wait really, quite a long wait and I simply sat and looked.

The first room I gazed in was Ocenaia. Matisse built this stunning creation bit by bit, with no real idea148088 of hat was going to happen. he cut and pinned pieces to his wall …. ‘Matisse had cut out a swallow from a sheet of writing paper and, as it distressed him to tear up this beautiful shape and throw it away, he said, he put it up on his wall, also using it to cover up a stain, the sight of which disturbed him. Over the following weeks other shapes were cut out and put up on the same wall.’ (Tate exhibition handbook)

The shapes are overwhelming, and simply invite you to rest a while … and I did.


I also got grabbed by The Parakeet and the Mermaid. A bizarre title of two things that should not go together as they normally exist in two different worlds. On this occasion though, Matisse brings them together because he can.

Matisse referred to this as ‘his garden’ and as he was too ill to get outside created something that brought the outside to him. I think that is sad, but wonderful in equal measure.

I sat in front of this for quite a long time imagining how this was a strong connection with the outside world for the artist.

I came away from the exhibition really quite stunned at how a frail old man, clearly struggling with life, and very weak could find strength to create such massive undertakings of work.

As Matisse becomes less in control his fine motor skills his work becomes more intricate.

As he becomes weaker, his art takes on a new hidden strength.

At a time when others his age maybe rest on their reputation, Matisse continues to push the boundaries and take on new challenges at a pretty major potential reputational cost.

I think that is an amazing level of vulnerability.

I came away wondering if my recent thoughts pondering the necessity for vulnerability and weakness to add value and integrity to mission are mirrored equally well in the art world … or maybe that is the other way round? maybe it’s more than that … maybe it’s a very human thing? Maybe this inbuilt requirement we have to feel less in order to do more is not just a bible/mission/christian thing …. maybe it’s more a human thing … a reality of humanity… to be continued … maybe


be human … not a saint!

Quotation-Markus-Zusak-human-Meetville-Quotes-85425John Drane’s second session was just as good as the first.

Drane started the session by continuing to look at what people living in our conceptual age need. I loved his language when he challenged us to ‘create an artistic and emotional beauty to craft a satisfying narrative’.

He expounded on this by pulling out more stuff from Dan Pink who provides 6 keys: DESIGN – understanding how to create beauty using ordinary objects
STORY – telling story to promote compelling narrative
SYMPHONY – integrating lots of info into a new arresting way forward
EMPATHY – so we can build relationships
PLAY – living with joy
MEANING – living with a purpose

John Drane considered those 6 keys and simply stated ‘this is Jesus’, meaning this is how Jesus acted when he was on earth. He backed these up with bible references from the gospels. Jesus, says Drane, gave people experiences that caused them to ask questions.

He then asked us a question … ‘how dow we make people feel so much that they can’t help thinking’. One way he suggested is that we need to get to grips with people’s value, and understand more of how we can nurture humanity. He then suggested that maybe we, as Christians and/or church,  should be less worried about trying to be saints and concentrate more on being human …. think about that one.

I resonated with that comment or challenge immediately. I blogged a while ago (can’t remember where or when and simply couldn’t spend the time looking back though old posts!) about possible reasons that Jesus came to earth. Christian orthodoxy talks of Jesus being 100% human and 100% God. I think church does the 100% God well, but never really talks about the 100% human truth. I translate that into believing that Jesus came in his total humanity to show us how to be human. In other words … if we want to know how to treat people and remain humans with dignity … then Jesus shows us the way!

That would be the Jesus who never excludes, the Jesus who always accepts, always waits, and always hopes. The Jesus that stands with open arms and says come … with you I am well pleased. There is lots more to write about …. but I am particularly taken at the moment by Jesus teaching us how to be human …. part of that is finding joy in ourselves so that we can illicit it in others …. that … I guess … is the Jesus way.

Chin up!

Chin up!I saw this tweet last week and sighed with despair :

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.

I was going to write something about it … but then saw that Graham had written something great already …. so why write when I can just point to a great blog post that is already out there.

I’ve also unashamedly taken the pic from Graham’s blog too …. for me it kind of sums up the crap that some of us say when really we should just hush ourselves and stand alongside and … well just be there …. as well as be honest ….

Go read ….

alliance or compliance?

twitteravatar_400x400I didn’t have much of a handle on the news yesterday, but was both shocked and saddened to learn that after months of discussions the EA has ended the membership of Oasis. The EA statement may be read in its entirety here. There are various articles around the web: Church Times, Christianity magazine, and Oasis has issued a response statement here.

What have Oasis done …  a massive amount  of great transforming mission across the world, works hard to make a positive impact in addressing people traffiking in this country, hard work to becomes the sponsor of 20 academies in the UK, 13 hubs across the UK in communities where transformation needs to happen; in addition to planting the seed of missional dna in the lives of thousands of people who they have trained, worked with and given opportunities to.

But …. if you are on the board of the Evangelical Alliance all that transformation of communities and individual persons lives that Oasis has invested in amount to nothing when it comes to membership of the EA.

And why? All because Steve Chalke has done some serious theological thinking and arrived, where many other Christians are, to a point where he can confidently say that God is an inclusive God. Because Steve sees no problem in scripture with loving committed homosexual relationships it seems that Oasis is no longer welcome round the table. You can remind yourself of Steve views by going here.

we-are-for-you-v2This is pretty bizarre for an organisation with a strapline of ‘we are better together‘. The EA picture here also grates a little … because clearly EA are not here for ‘you’ unless you agree and comply totally with what they think to be truth. I would suggest, as well, that this inclusive picture is pretty misleading in light of their Oasis stament. Their statement includes the words ‘they were unwilling to fulfil the council’s request  to adjust the content of their website/resources and social media output to equally profile the traditional Christian view.’ 

So … if we look at this pragmatically, this group do not really want an alliance …. they want compliance, all agreeing every fine detail before acceptance is issued. I’m so glad I don’t believe in a God like that … what a horrendous image,  God who wants you to be just like everyone else, believe all the right things, and behaving in certain ways. The God outside of this is a God of grace, a God of love …  a God of acceptance.

This coming so soon after the World Visiongate fiasco leaves me again questioning what this wing of the church, the wing I have grown up in, really sees as important. What is all this mission stuff about? Sadly, it seems to me that what is REALLY being said is that of paramount important is truth and agreeing what truth is, rather than lives transformed.

I don’t get that!
That’s not reflecting the Jesus of the gospels.  

Steve has been very gracious in his response and says he is still an evangelical and I get that, but i think the name ‘evangelical’ is increasingly becoming a title that instils fear and confusion in others. I was actually asked a few weeks ago something like ‘you’re not one of those evangelical christians are you who want to spoil our fun and hate everyone?’ That saddened me as that statement crashes right against the original reason for the evangelical movement … to see peoples lives changed by the transforming power of God.

So …my response will be simple and little. I am cancelling my personal membership of the EA. The money they used to get from me, little that it is, will go to Oasis instead. I don’t wish to invest in arguing over what is right or wrong, I want to invest in the transformation of communities and lives.

Ironically …. I am only a member of EA because years ago Steve Chalke spoke from a platform somewhere and encouraged us to join to help make a difference … seems Steve Chalke is still serious about … I don’t believe the EA are anymore.