social movements and Gen Y (or, stuff I’ve learnt from my students)

Oy! Don't so Lone Ranger leh

Oy! Don’t so Lone Ranger leh

I work with a lot of students, and many are really lonely when I first meet them. The more go-getting among them often have great ideas, followed by bursts of enthusiasm, followed by a gradual sinking back into normality/boredom when a project either successfully concludes, or bombs (or fizzles out in a middling sort of way). Eventually they get up again and have another burst of enthusiasm, for a different project. And do do do. And sink back. And rinse and repeat.

I don’t have a problem with this per se, in fact it can be a great sort of contained skunk works for rapid learning, and I don’t deny that it can produce some great results (in bursts). What I do struggle with, though, is the gap between most of these students’ huge hopes and dreams for things beyond themselves (peace in the Middle East, saving the environment, clean water and education for every child…) which will take massive sustained, coordinated effort to attain over years if not decades, and this pattern of scattergun, often Lone Ranger activity, which does not appear to me to be a workable, liveable means to achieving those huge hopes and dreams.

french civilian despair

The danger is that students then look at all these projects over time and think, “well, it was okay/good, but it didn’t really make a dent in (insert huge hope/dream). Come to think of it, neither did (this other project). Or (that other project). And they were all a heck lot of pain on my part for what they achieved.” This often doesn’t happen in a sudden realisation, more in a steady, creeping angst kind of way over a long period of time. And at this point, here are two destructive things that can happen:

1. The student loses heart. The gap between what they want to see in the world and their actual capacity to effect change just feels so unbridgeable, and they get discouraged and too hurt to try anymore. Something has soured. They retreat into their small dreams (sometimes telling themselves that those dreams are still worthy — which they are, they’re just too small for who the student is).

2. The student blames others. If only those guys over there had joined me; but they just don’t get what I’m trying to achieve (cue martyr spirit). So I’m going to try harder to do things even more on my own in future to protect myself. Or, poor me, stuck in this (job, relationship, other unfortunate situation) because I have to for (insert inevitable lifestory reason). If I didn’t have to do x, I could achieve so much more (cue self-pity).

Um, hate to break it to ya, but you are the only constant variable in your equation.

mo farah

One of my (smallish) dreams, which also happens to be one of the main purposes of the job I get to do (woop woop!), is to equip students and send them out into the world with both the heart that actually has those huge hopes and dreams, and the capacity to make them happen. Here are some of the things that I often find myself trying to teach/model to students in my job:

1. Focus your calling. You are probably not going to be the person who achieves peace in the Middle East and saves the environment and provides clean water and education to every child. But you might be the person who makes a massive dent in one of those. What’s it gonna be for you? (In the words of Jim Collins, what’s your personal hedgehog?)

2. Take the long view. It won’t all happen today, but it could happen in your lifetime. If x is really your hedgehog, which you will give your life to see happen, what do you need to start doing now so that you’ll be best placed to achieve it in 20, 30 years’ time? Sometimes these are really direct things, like getting more educational qualifications or work experience in a certain industry. But sometimes, these are strangely indirect things, like growing in perseverance through starting regular exercise. (And sticking with that image,) think of your life as a marathon, not a sprint.

3. Think movementally, not individually. Please don’t be the Lone Ranger, dreams that are bigger than yourself need movements that are bigger than just you. Who is going to be your mirror and your memory and cover your blind spots? Who can you hand on your massive hope/dream to so that it keeps growing past your lifetime? Most of us think in a rather loner, lifespan-limited way. Find a remedy for that. Live in community. Serve someone else’s hope/dream.

Gen Y are often characterised by sociologists as having little sticking power, and desiring community but being highly individualistic. Let’s buck those trends.

(Top photo from here; middle photo of French civilian crying as the Nazis occupy Paris from here; bottom photo from here. With thanks to all.)

kaohsiung (apologies again for the short post, i’ve got a train to catch)

at zuoying hsr station using the public computer, train departing in 30 minutes for taipei, and the little boy using the other public computer is playing an mmorpg which i THINK might be dota, but since when did public computers have dota installed on them?! or is this just taiwan, land of the inveterate gamers? (scratch that – his dad just crept up from behind him and booted him off his game) now i’m flanked by his dad and two dudes charging handphones… i’d say this is a first world problem, except the first world has left me far behind in terms of technology, and no dude my age goes tramping around nations trusting in the kindness of public computers. everyone’s doddling around with their ipads and whatnot; no reason to believe in public computers, and they’ll probably go the way of teletext once the insufferables like me finally surrender and pay attention to the next singtel/m1/starhub promotion.

but i have mentioned before that technology hates me, and on that front things don’t change. i’m trying to use my mom’s samsung galaxy tab 2 in taiwan. i have given up. the spot that gets stabbed by my finger hates the finger, but the spots around the stabbed spot love getting peripherally caressed. if nokia or whatever company still manufacturing keypad phones survives well into the next decade, i’ll be quite the happy man, because i’ll know then that i’m not the only shithead unable to manoeuvre an otherwise perfectly blameless gadget. meanwhile, it’s just a lot of cursing and grumbling, and a lot of reason to read actual newspapers and books, instead of getting redirected every other minute by deluded technology.

in other news – taiwan is hot. taipei is an oven, kaohsiung makes me sweat even in the airconditioned shopping centers, and at night my walking around night markets is just an exercise in dehydration (and eating far too much for my own good). this time i came was for edward’s wedding, so that’s all good – but next i decide i want to extend my vacation, i’ll give good thought to the seasons and the weather – or am i just saying this because i still have a choice in deciding when i want to take a break? next i get a chance i might already be working… and as everyone says, i’m a bloody lucky arse right now, and won’t be in a couple of years. count my blessings. and so it goes.


heart leaves

Life has been a lot of fun lately. Now that exams are over, the Warwick campus is full of English summer wonders, e.g. Morris dancing, and local produce markets.

morris dancing on campus

There have been opportunities to play this elegantly simple strategy game, a birthday present from my lovely housemates.

There has been time to make blueberry-lemon cake (delicious) and a beansprout banchan so addictive that I needed the intervention of my younger sister visiting to wrench it from my hands. For about three days it was perfectly acceptable to eat this banchan: for breakfast at 7.30am, for elevenses, with lunch, after lunch, throughout the afternoon, for dinner, for dessert, and in the middle of the night when you woke up thinking about it. By the way, the recipe’s not bad, but if you can, add some white rice vinegar and chilli and garlic sauce — then you’ll really get obsessive.

beansprout banchan

Coventry also had a cycling festival this past weekend, which made me realise that 1. the city does actually have a bit of a cycling culture, hooray, and 2. the bicycle industry has been among those that made Coventry’s fortunes — along with silk, ribbons, watch and clockmaking, and the manufacture of sewing machines and cars. Apparently in the 1890s most of the bicycles in the world were made here. I quite like being part of a city that actually makes stuff.

Also, how cool is this online vintage bicycle museum?

And, there has been a trip to this amazing little place in Leamington Spa. Tea, cake, and live jazz piano? Um YES YES WHY HAVE YOU NOT BEEN IN MY LIFE BEFORE YES.

Leaf piano bar

Speaking of tea, this Sunday is our church’s big family day — every year, people from our four different congregations all get together for a day of hog roast, lawn games, worship and teaching, inflatable slides, baptisms, communion, facepainting, ice creams, thanksgiving for the past year…and a huge afternoon tea baked and served entirely by church people to other church people. Guess who gets to coordinate serving the afternoon tea to a 300-strong family with her housemate 😉 It was crazy the first two years, but now I love it. Pray for sunshine!

Have a good weekend — go find some afternoon tea yourself!

rules, love, repentance

Been reading a crazy book lately, about freedom and church culture (those two things don’t really go together normally, do they!). Some mind-blowing truths about how to live in and govern freedom:

“When people sin, it is offensive […] it is natural to be offended when someone breaks the rules. We put people in prison and call them offenders. Our society is filled with sinners practicing sin, and naturally, our society is caught in a relationship with the rules. Even lawlessness is a relationship with the rules […]

Many rules call for many judges, and people love to play judge. That’s what headlines and newscasts are for, to help us sharpen our judgement skills […]

We have to be aware of how natural it is to be offended, and what offense does to you. What offense does to you is it justifies you withholding your love. I get to withhold my love from you when you have broken the rules, because people who fail are unworthy of love, and they deserve to be punished. In fact, what punishment looks like most often is withholding love. And when I withhold my love, anxiety fills the void, and a spirit of fear directs my behaviour toward the offender.

When we are afraid, we want control, and our responses to the sin of other people are a set of controls that help us feel like we are still in charge. The typical practices of the family, churches, and the government are to set a series of behaviours called punishments in front of an offender and require the offender to walk through these punishments in order to prove that the family, churches and government are still in charge in the environment […]

In a rule-driven environment, repentance […] signifies your willingness to let me punish you […] and the issue of the heart that led you to make the mistake in the first place is never dealt with, because the issue of relationship and love is never touched. The general attitude toward someone who is repentant in a rule-driven culture is, “You have surrendered your will to me in our environment. I’ll never be able to trust you though, because you have proven yourself to be a lawbreaker, and it will rest in my memory for a really long time. Until I begin to forget about how scared I was of you, I’ll never be able to empower you again.” […]

But true repentance is a gift. It’s not your option. It’s not your call. It is a gift that comes in a relationship. There’s no place for repentance in the rules, only for punishment. If you break our rules, then you pay our price. That’s just how it works. You pay the price in order to assuage the anxieties of the people in the environment that live within those rules. You do the crime, so you do the time. When we practice this in the Church, we are allowing ourselves to be defined by the limits of earthly government. When you break the law, the best earth’s government can do is to say, “We hurt them sufficiently so that you guys would calm down.”

The gift of repentance creates the opportunity for true restoration. In fact, it is absolutely necessary in order to heal a relationship that has been hurt by sinful behaviour. True repentance can only come through a relationship with God in which we come into contact with the grace of God to change […]

When God restores those who have repented, His process of restoration looks like reestablishing a royal family member in his or her place of rulership and honour […] the standard of the government of Heaven is that we learn to cultivate and protect our relationship with God, with love, and with each other. And if we can’t do it, we won’t reflect Heaven to the society we live in. We will just have stricter rules that offend us quicker, and we will judge more often and become more famous for being offended judges.”

— Danny Silk, Culture of Honour


spent the whole of yesterday morning and afternoon on a plane from Singapore to Taipei, and then spent the evening getting caught in a downtown traffic jam. at night, had a great bowl of beef noodles, and then was told by the hotel receptionist that my plan comes with a free cocktail each night… my first instinct is to remark how this arrangement suits me way better than the usual complimentary breakfast, which I think shows how far gone I am. I really need to get my act together.

all that said, today i’ll be linking up with the gang, and tomorrow is Edward’s wedding. eight days here. good breather, figuratively and literally – hope the haze in Singapore isn’t getting any worse – but I hear that the heat in Taiwan may cause a typhoon to form off its coasts. i’m not looking forward to that possibility, but well, that’s life, and so it goes. will write again when I don’t have people in queue for the hotel public computer.

life in a community house: Anna’s story

Hello friends, so awhile back I told you about living in a community house, where we share money, eat together, holiday together, and basically choose to behave as a family even though we are not related or married to one another.

I thought you might like to know a bit more about how all this feels, and so I interviewed my housemate Anna, to get her part of the picture. Anna is truly amazing, she has a really cool story of how she moved to Coventry which shows how powerfully brave she is. She also loves children, and every year leads the teaching at a summer camp for 300-400 preschoolers! In our house, she’s kind of the ‘practical one’, who remembers to take bins out, sort the bills, etc. She also has a wonderful sense of humour 🙂

Tell us a bit about who you are.

I’m Anna! 29 (but I try to stay in touch with my inner child!). I love having a giggle (including practical jokes like dressing up as a monkey on my mate’s doorstep); I love God’s creation and going on walks; to relax, I enjoy hanging out with mates, playing games, watching films and eating nice food!

How did you come to live in Coventry?

Before living with Chernise in Coventry, I used to live with my family in Bracknell (45 minutes from London on the train) and was a primary school teacher. And although I loved working with the kids, I found the workload and pressures less and less enjoyable and ended up having no life outside of school. A few things happened, which I believe were from God, that gave me a lifeline — a friend of mine lived in Coventry, so I used to come up and stay with her. One time, she invited me to come along to Kidz Klub (a Christian charity working with kids in deprived areas across the city, sharing love and having fun together!) and I fell in love with it!

Then, a 19 year old girl I knew suddenly died in her sleep, and this made me think life is too short to stay in something you really don’t enjoy. I felt God say “GO TO COVENTRY + SHARE LOVE OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL CONTEXT!”

I was excited yet very scared — I had to quit my job without any paid work to come to, nowhere to live, and only one friend I knew! But I did it, and it was the best decision I’ve made — I’ve got to know some amazing people, have loads of friends, have great housemates, I’m now employed by Kidz Klub and love my job and the families I work with!

How did you end up living in a community house?

Myself and one of my housemates wanted to make life a bit more meaningful than just having four walls around us — that’s when we decided to commit and invest in each other, e.g. sharing money a bit more, eating together, helping each other. We then wanted to invite Chernise and our other housemate into that, and we’ve developed this community even more — still got lots we could do to make life even more meaningful, but it’s fun/challenging along the way!

What’s really great about living in community?

Even though I’m a few hundred miles away from my family, I have a family right here in Coventry who I can be myself with and know we’re all looking out for each other, have fun together, go deeper with. I have a great family right here in Cov!

I can think of many occasions where we’ve laughed and cried — there have been recent times of sadness that we’ve had to deal with as a household, but it would have been so much harder on our own as individuals.

What do you find hardest about living in community?

If I’ve got a problem/feeling sorry for myself/done something wrong, I can’t just run away from my issues. I’ve committed to this community so I’ve got to face my issues, be honest with my housemates, be open and vulnerable, say sorry, learn from my mistakes, accept challenge, give challenge. This is not a place you just give up on! But although this may be hard sometimes, I 100% think it’s right and although I might want to hide in the corner, I know that’s not the best thing to do.

What’s one especially funny/cool thing that’s happened in the house?

It was amazing how we got our furniture when we moved into our previous house — we had nothing and the house was unfurnished, so we got given pretty much everything. And our entire living room coordinated. It felt like God was our interior designer!
[Me: this, by the way, is completely true…all the chairs and tables we got given were made of wood, and our soft furnishings were all shades of blue and white, with some brown tones. PLUS we had two identical wooden rocking chairs given to us separately, by different people — it was crazy.]

We’ve also had a pigeon stuck up our chimney, which really took community living to another level…

Thanks, Anna! You are incredible. I love living with you — especially for your sense of fun and your practical brain 🙂