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:

a party, with lanterns

I’ve lived with my new housemates for five days now, and it’s been thoroughly good so far. Nothing earth-shattering, just little things like eating breakfast together bleary-eyed in the mornings, asking if anyone needs the bathroom before you shower, and swapping accounts of the day before bed. But it’s exactly those little things that make us feel known and valued and like we’re not alone in the world, far away from home.

Speaking of feeling known and valued, a lovely friend of mine, Emma, had a pretty special birthday party last weekend. Besides the usual food/music/conversations, she asked each guest to bring along a story, poem, song, magic trick, craft, or just any other creative thing to share on the spot with everyone else.

This past week it was Mid-Autumn Festival, so I brought along some Chinese paper lanterns, and told the story behind the festival. Other friends composed Emma a birthday song, read from this hilarious book, sang Bruce Springsteen and the Civil Wars covers, and put a broken matchstick back together (how?! These tricks always baffle me).

It was so fun learning about friends, some old and some new, through what they had brought. And it reminded me that people carry such fascinating interests and skills with them all the time, if only we have eyes to see.

Isn’t that such a fun, simple party idea? I had a great time.

lanterns

(Photo: from here, with thanks.)

Ps. In case you’re wondering how furnishing the house is going – I got given a bedframe that is (guess what) exactly the same model as the old one that got thrown out due to bedbugs months ago! Plus, two really great friends of mine have just moved in round the corner. Amazingness. 🙂

Thankfulness: a commercial

colour run

I was at a festival recently, where one of the speakers said that she does ‘thankfulness commercials’. When her kids start to get grumpy or complain, she makes them stop, and each name five things that they are thankful for.

And you know what? She said that once they start, they never ever can only name five. They just carry on – “I’m thankful for…my mum, my dad, my brother, my house, the sun, the moon, the stars…” etc.

It made me think how mostly, the white noise of my heart is not thankful noise. It is grumbly, complain-y, ‘if only…’ noise.

This week, I am thankful for:

  • A fab weekend away – the Colo(u)r Run, thin-crust pizza, a sandsculpture festival, the sea, and About Time
  • A warm, sunshine-y afternoon
  • Casual weekday badminton (and flexible working)
  • One of my new housemates discovering that he owns a microwave (!)
  • Other furniture gifts still coming in: a dining table, another sofa, a wardrobe, vintage porcelain dishes, money
  • A garden harvest of fat green beans and six beautiful tomatoes
  • A team and job that I love
  • A friend to sit with while reading
  • Winning at this game.
  • Long-distance phone chats
  • Encouragement to persevere, from the book of Hebrews
  • A borrowed umbrella when it was raining
  • This good read
  • The most bombastic crumble ever – plum, peach, rhubarb, fig and ginger
  • My entire church staff helping me to move house
  • My vicar/boss sawing a hole in the back of my bookcase so that I have access to power sockets
  • A helpful contact agreeing to be interviewed for an assignment
  • Cantonese curry. Stroopwafels. Home-baked jam cookies the size of your hand.
  • That man in the queue behind me at Costa, who helped pick up my change that had fallen all over the floor. (He also said it was an ‘omen from the Lord, telling me to relax today’…! Maybe so, Mr. Helpful)
  • My baby nephew. Oh the cuteness, oh the chub.
  • Complete support from ex-housemates (‘do you need any food? Cleaning supplies? Anything at all?’)
  • Indoor picnics with the just-moved-in look

 indoor picnic

And that, my friends, is all.

Have a weekend full of things to be thankful for!

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.

 

summer in full swing

Hello my dears, I am off gallivanting to Copenhagen (holiday) and Kent (retreat) and West Sussex (music festival) this couple of weeks, but thought I’d document some summer memories so far:

Went to see this amazing exhibition a few weeks ago, and was moved to tears by the compassion, sense of humour and all-round sparkly wonderfulness of Quentin Blake. What a genius.

This has also been happening in Coventry recently – lots of outdoor sports activities, including cycling round the (in)famous ring road, and one of my friends dressing up as Skippy (a kangaroo, what else)! Fun times. Making me feel proud of Coventry, especially its design and manufacturing heritage.

It was a real-life steam train! That you could actually travel on! Enough to turn any adult back into a child.

Perfect summery dishes: here and here (works just as well with pork, by the way).

Saw this movie a couple weeks ago – so much food for thought.

And, my summer reading.

Finally, a very beautiful, moving video piece: (Edit 5/9/13: Sorry, this link doesn’t seem to be working anymore. You can view the video here however: http://www.simonchristen.com/adrift.html)

Happy weekend! Hope you have some barefoot, hanging out-y fun.

a song for your summer

For the sound of your summer, there can be no other than the esteemed Ben Howard. What an awesome music video!

Have a summery, hanging-out-y, playful weekend.

*

In other news, a friend has demanded to know what exactly my community house‘s “season of high challenge” consisted of, as soon as possible – so, here’s the reveal…

Some of us in the house were really challenged by this story, particularly Jesus’ words to “sell what you possess and give to the poor”. So we gave away all our income for a month, keeping it a secret from most people, and lived ‘by faith’, i.e. just on what we happened to receive.

At the same time, we also really wanted to keep being more and more hospitable as a house, so we decided that we would keep having friends over and feeding them whatever we had. We also didn’t want to start behaving in a poor way, i.e. just hoarding and trying to make whatever we had last as long as possible, since that doesn’t require any faith, so we ate as much and as good quality as we normally would.

Some things I learnt during this time:

  • ‘Not having anything’ (or rather, thinking we don’t have anything) is immensely freeing and a great stimulant to creativity. It is nowhere near as scary as I thought it would be. It did, however, feel nasty, all stripped down like fasting (which I am really bad at). Which leads me to…
  • My spirituality is flabby. Quite often my comfort does not come from God; it comes from new clothes and £3 hot chocolates in cafes. Loving money and ‘stuff’ is a stronghold that needs to be contested regularly
  • However, God can totally be trusted to provide. Quite a lot of free stuff appeared during this time…
  1. Petrol – the few people we had told decided to fill up our tanks! So we had enough to go places
  2. Food – always enough to feed ourselves and any friends we had over; lots of timely leftovers from various shindigs
  3. A replacement bedframe and mattress when I had bedbugs! – my parents had promised me a new mattress ages ago, so it was time to cash in; my housemate had a spare bedframe
  4. Lifts – quite a lot of them just when they would have been nice (and sometimes necessary); from people that we knew, who happened to be driving by
  5. Fun! – Charlecote Park, a cool art installation project, Coventry cathedral secondhand book sale, a barbecue, getting kidnapped to go and see As You Like It by the Royal Shakespeare Company, seeing Watford FC play live (!) etc etc
  • Manifestly, God is in the business of providing beyond the stale-crusts-and-water lifestyle
  • He is also a big fan of hospitality
  • If your finances aren’t in shape, it’s hard to bless other people
  • I don’t tell God nearly enough what I want
  • These things are better done in community. Much better. It’s amazing how powerful community is to keep people alive and happy.

On reflection, I have realised that while my feelings associated with this season were of misery and there not being enough, the fact is that there was always enough, and then some. It’s just that my idea of what is ‘enough’ is a lot beyond what is actually needed to have a perfectly adequate, enjoyable life.

We don’t seem to be any the worse for the wear, and it’s definitely gotten under the veneer of my religion (the stuff I say I believe) to show me the condition of my faith (what I actually believe). Feels like just the beginning of a much longer process of faith adventures, cultivating a simple life and growing in trust…

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