building something good

Hello, friends. I hope you have had a good week. I had an awesome moment last night, at the gathering of our wider student community, the Nest, of looking round the room and realising that a good handful of our student leaders from last year have really come onboard with where I see the group going. All of them were getting to know the new students, clearing up after dinner, moving the evening along, making people feel welcome – no matter what had happened in their weeks, which they were able to set aside to be fully present for that gathering.

And I know these guys – I know that some of them have some really tough stuff going on, while others are really busy and tired. They are amazing people.

It reminded me of a quote I read before, from a psychologist called Peter Kramer, who said that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness – it’s resilience. These student leaders (and good friends of mine) weren’t necessarily having the time of their lives; to them, it was just another weekly gathering, another time to serve. But they had the capacity, the tensile strength, to prioritise that mundane, but essential calling for the evening over sinking into some mire of self-pity and exhaustion and checking out.

And that choice, by these people working as a team, is making a real difference to the 40+ people who have visited the Nest these past couple of weeks. It is stamping positive memories of being in community, being loved and wanted and thought interesting, on their first weeks of living in Coventry.

I am so proud of them.

Feels like we’re building something good here.

*

Ps. Other interesting snippets from the week:

Related article about raising up team and shaping culture.

Watched this classic with my housemates on Monday night. How true to life is that Mexican-wave-softball-game scene?! Nora Ephron = pure genius.

Good bedtime reading that I’ve just finished. Very honest, funny, and delicious – you may need to fix yourself a midnight snack.

It’s an old album now, but she has a really great voice:

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the Color Run, vindication, and…an exciting announcement

Dearies, it has been a most up-and-down week. There was a big misunderstanding with this course that I’m doing, with them threatening to make me resubmit an assignment and cap my score at 50%. But after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and sleepless nights, it has all been resolved with me not needing to do anything – very relieved and thankful to all who prayed and said kind things and got indignant on my behalf. One thing I have discovered, my people are very sweet.

And now, onward – to Brighton for THIS. And camping and eating Italian and Japanese food and exploring a sand sculpture festival, with my lovely lovely housemate. Feels like a proper last hurrah to the summer, and a much needed getaway.

 

new house keys

In other news, my community house is multiplying! This has been in the works for awhile; I had a sense that while we all dearly love one another, it was time to share that with some other people, to grow to include more friends in our community life. So over the next couple of weeks I’ll be moving down the road to live with two friends, both international students, who are just great, and to build up a community life of our own. At the same time, it’s not the end for my current housemates; we’re going to share rhythms of prayer and mealtimes across the two houses, and obviously stay fast friends. Exciting (and crazy) times! We got the keys to our new house yesterday 🙂

Our new house is also unfurnished apart from kitchen appliances, and God’s massively come through on providing furniture that we can’t easily afford to buy so far. We’ve been offered, by people in our communities, entirely free:

– Two single bedframes
– A wardrobe
– Three chairs
– Two dining tables
– Two sofas
– Three desks
– A picture
– Two armchairs
– A portable radiator
– Six standing lamps

And…entirely unnecessarily:

– A piano keyboard and stand (which I just tacked onto my wishlist, thinking, “Oh, we’ll never get that”)
– A murder mystery game (the day after I had thought how nice it would be to have a collection of games)

Don’t you love it when the standard for reasonable provision is not ‘bread and water’ but chocolate too 😉 wish us luck/pray!

Have a colo(u)rful weekend, everyone.

 

solitude, calling, and the internet man

sheep

Ok friends, and here we screech to the end of a rather bumpy week. I was alone at home for a lot of it because my exciting housemates are all away. Oh, and also because the internet man decided that this was the week he would come and fix us up, which meant having to work from home A LOT and wait (and wait and wait) for routers etc to appear. Hopefully, by end of today, we will have the internets and this will conclude THREE MONTHS OF SORROW AND AGONY (talktalk I am never talking to you ever again *£^%&*@gfthgft).

Anyway. Do you find that as you get older, you seem to develop towards the opposite extreme from your personality type? As in, e.g., you used to introvertedly suck up alone time, but now you can’t live without human interaction for even one evening? That is what I have discovered about myself this week. Hmm. Interesting considering what Bonhoeffer says:

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community […] let him who is not in community beware of being alone […] each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

Maybe it’s time for me to learn to be by myself again for a bit. Summer is a good time for that.

(Speaking of which, have you seen this comic about understanding introverts yet? Pretty good stuff.)

landscape

My other big reflection on the week is that no one has a full understanding of what I am called to do with my life except God. Not my friends, not my parents, not my church leader, not myself. And everyone, myself included, will sooner or later bump up against something in my life that they/I don’t think I’m called to do, but which is in fact right to do.

This is why following this particular God isn’t about rules, because sometimes obedience will look like steeling myself to defy the talking heads in my life, while other times (like right now with fundraising) it looks like everyone trying to nudge me towards this thing that I so feel inadequate for.

This is also why Jesus had so much to say about unity, I think. Because unity means that his followers keep on loving each other even when they are being led down completely different paths, encouraging each other to do completely different, even opposite things.

Practically, right now, here’s how this stuff is hitting me:

1. I want to learn to experiment again with fundraising, to unashamedly start from zero knowledge. To not let childlikeness make me feel inadequate, but to actually learn that this is the best preparation for learning.

2. I want to refuse to compare. How should I know whether these guys are supposed to be in this career or not, married or not, spending money on this or not? All I know is, I’m trying to follow Jesus, and presumably, so are they.

sweeping

Oh and finally, there’s been an awful lot of sanctimonious talk coming out of Singapore this past week. Pastor Kong Hee, Family Pledge, opine opine, waffle waffle…can we all just give our judging skills a rest now, please? Judging skills, it’s holiday time, ok?! You just sit yourselves right down and take a little break.

Have a restful, non-judgemental weekend, everyone.

PS. A coffee personality type chart that made me laugh.

(Photos: Are mine from a day trip to the Cotswolds.)

dear Warwick graduand

warwick graduation

Dear Warwick graduand,

I’m glad that the sun has been shining for your graduation this week. That’ll sure look nice in those photos. I hope you’ve had a good time and not too much trouble keeping your family happy.

Just as an ‘oldy mouldy’ who’s seen a few Warwick graduations – fourteen, to be precise – come and go, I wonder if you might allow me, for an instant, to burst into all this Bubble hubbub, to burst your bubble.

I would like to invite you to identify who, or what, receives the honour from your graduation ceremony. There are two time-honoured ways of recognising what humanity values – the diary (time) and the wallet (money).

Let us think – you have spent the last three, maybe four, years of your life learning the ways of the world on this campus, examining some of the foundational theories of your academic discipline, and hopefully making some lifelong friends and not getting too drunk or high along the way. This has been, without a doubt, a formative period in your life. And you are emerging from it – you, with all your gifts and genius and weirdness and just distinctive individual interesting humanness – to a ceremony that allows you to walk across a stage for 30 seconds. Wearing basically the same outer costume as everyone else in your department (compulsory or else you cannot walk across the stage), identified only as ‘a degree holder in your subject’, and distinguished only from the other people walking on before and after you by the hierarchy of your degree classifications on your certificates. Hmm.

Let us think – someone has paid tens of thousands of pounds for your university education. Someone, somewhere, has worked really hard to generate enough of a surplus over and above the costs of survival, that you could be here. You yourself maybe, like many of my friends, have had to work part-time to keep yourself here. It has also cost your parents quite a bit to be present today (and astronomically more, if they’ve travelled from abroad) – look at that nice frock mum is wearing. And now that they are here, guess what? It costs yet more for you to be part of the 30-second walk across the stage in the right costume. Those flowers and balloons are not free. If your department is having a celebratory event, it also comes with a price tag. Hmm.

I am not saying that you should not have fun. I am not saying that you should not smile in those sun-drenched photos and be happy and have a great day. What I am saying is, understand that the flows of time and money on your graduation day are not really being directed by the University towards your honour – not very much, anyway.

What I am saying is, the universities across this country, indeed the world, convert the natural curiosity of young adults and the love that their parents have for them into large flows of time and money that shore up the university system. I am not saying that it is the universities’ fault either; that just seems to be the system, and indeed as far as Warwick goes, it’s a brilliant university to have spent three years at. Also, I know, I know, you have the day to get on with, and you’re not going to change the system today. But perhaps we should ask – as we pause to take off those high heels and apply plasters in between camera flashes – what exactly is it that we are shoring up? What are we celebrating and honouring? And perhaps more importantly, what should we really be celebrating and honouring instead?

Here are some suggestions.

1. You made it – many people don’t. Celebrate that somehow, partly through your own effort but very largely not, today the sun is shining and you are on a campus savouring this particular moment in your life. What a gift. Why should you be so lucky?

Please do NOT celebrate the fact that you, by your supreme human effort, have successfully climbed to the top of a very slippery pile, which usually involves desensitisation to your own values, and are looking smugly downward at all the other bodies that you have stepped on. Gross.

2. Your ‘framily’ – these are your friends and family who really, really do care about you. That flatmate who held your hair back when you were throwing up over the toilet. Your long-suffering parents who kept phoning you even when you weren’t really interested. Please, celebrate that you have them. Celebrate them.

If you are hoping that your 30-second moment of glory on the stage will produce this magic rush of approval and affirmation, and wishing that your awkward teenage brother and decrepit grandmother weren’t here, then have I got news for you. You are probably not going to finish your life rich and famous, but you can finish your life with lorryloads of framily. Public approval and affirmation will not make you feel deeply loved. Framily, although it is slow-burn and sometimes induces feelings of going crazy, will.

3. Uni Veritas – universities were originally started as a place for scholars to find the ‘one Truth’, the ‘Uni Veritas’, and to learn to live by it. Now, I happen to think that the original ‘one Truth’ that these places were set up for people to find is completely valid, because Jesus is the only thing (Person) that has ever made my world cohere. But this is not really about that, not directly anyway. The point is, celebrate the discoveries that you have made over the last three or four years as to how you want to live your life. Celebrate that you have certain values, which move you to live for things that are bigger than yourself. Celebrate your choices made consistent with those values, especially when you were tempted to sell out. Celebrate those times when you chose courage and fought fear. Celebrate your in this manner becoming more fully alive and human.

In other words, today, please don’t celebrate the university system, and please don’t celebrate yourself instead of that system. Celebrate your good fortune (‘God’, if you like), your community, and your ability to sell out your life for something much bigger than yourself.

Grace and peace, and sunshiney photos xx

jiggery pokery fakery

Been more aware of various kinds of fakery in my life and around me recently, and they are starting to grate increasingly. This can only be a good thing.

It all reminded me of this song, which is incredibly catchy and convicting at the same time:

(Also, what a hilariously cheesy silly music video…whacky and random before whacky and random became cool.)

I have decided that my summer ambition is to get back to the basics. Resting, reading, being reflective, getting real, raw even. Especially, if not only, about my need for God. My own dreams and my abilities to deliver them are much too small; and I am too damaged and insecure on my own to offer anything like enough to anyone else. Powering up…

Have a restful weekend.

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

end of my rope

This past week has been both very excellent, and very hard. Excellent because of many surprises and gifts, not least for my birthday, and because of lots of sunny experiences outdoors, including going to see the bluebells on the Warwick campus, which only last for about a week.

bluebell path

sea of blue

It’s been hard because something in me really rebels against being given things that I want to earn. After all these years of supposedly “living by God’s grace”, I am still, again and again, confronted by the fact that I obstinately think I should be able to make it alone. Surely surely, if I work hard enough, and am charming and pretty and bright and well-educated enough, I will make a success of my life and then I will be able to present it all to God for His approval. Up until then, God, really, it’s fine. I’m working on it, but it’s fine really and I’ll see you when I’m done. You’ll be pleased, I can tell you.

 I might shoot up a prayer on particularly desperate occasions, in the hope that God will align His powers to my agenda, but by and large, I put the food on my plate. I pay my bills. I cultivate my relationships. I get the promotions at work. I solve my own problems. And, just to show how competent I am, I help other people to solve their problems too.

But life has a way of blowing a fuse on you, which — sometimes — is Mercy’s way of reminding you that you can’t make things happen. (Sometimes it’s just crap that’s happening for no good reason.) And, you can also choose to do things that make you hungry for God, that enlarge that God-shaped hole inside of you, so that, even if you aren’t feeding yourself on Him yet, at least you know you’re hungry.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” — Jesus, Matthew 5.3

Awhile ago, someone I work with asked the question, “how can we arrange our lives in such a way that they won’t work unless God turns up?” That is, how do we make space to see God move, rather than just fending for ourselves in normal life? It’s quite a good question, if for no other reason than I have found that if I make my own heart desperate, God has less need to let the bugs get my attention. That’s part of what fasting is about, right?

Anyway, I think this is pretty much a season of learning to put myself in that hungry, desperate place. It’s funny because when we (my housemates and church community and I) started thinking about intentionally living in this season, I was really keen on it. I thought that it would be really satisfying, this having been my whole previous experience of ‘living by faith’; we would do some crazy radical things*, and then shortly after God would turn up, and we would have great stories to tell, right? Sure, we might go hungry and be miserable for awhile, but that would be a small price to pay for the miraculous returns and peer kudos in the longer run. (Did I mention I’m an achiever?)

God, however, is a lot cleverer than that, a lot harder to pin down and manipulate, and as a result, six weeks into our now-named ‘season of high challenge’, I am a lot more sobered than when we started. Whoever knew that He would bless us and provide for us, but not in the ways that we were expecting or asking for? Whoever knew that He doesn’t do things the same way twice? Whoever knew that He would use the delay time on coming through for us, and the fact that He’s just doing it in small and quiet ways, to shake my need for social approval? Whoever knew that He knows how to, while providing for me, still make me hungrier and more desperate than ever?

stretch of bluebells

very very blue

Someone I really respect once said that we make following Jesus easy and complicated, but it’s supposed to be simple and hard — all stripped back to that which really, really matters.

Hmm…I’m starting to think that I’m actually in a really good place.

*Sorry that I can’t be more specific about the crazy radical things yet, I’m sworn to secrecy until our season of high challenge is over. But watch this space…