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:

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.


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…

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.)

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

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 🙂

false memories

Have you ever been absolutely sure of something that happened to you as a child, only to later be told by parents, older relatives etc that it happened to someone else, or couldn’t have happened?

Warwick Uni is doing some really interesting stuff this term on false memories. Apparently Dr Kim Wade, a Psychology professor at the university, has managed to implant the false memory of going on a hot air balloon ride in 50 percent of her test subjects. That’s every other person! Whoa.

I actually volunteered for a different Psychology experiment run by her when I was an undergrad, and she did manage to get me to be certain that as a child, I had choked on a boiled sweet. Apparently 2 out of 3 of her test subjects emerged absolutely convinced that they, too, had experienced this. So surreal and bizarre; I still remember the stomach-turning moment when she said that it hadn’t actually happened to me. What a completely flummoxing feeling. Seems like we hardly know anything at all about memory still, despite all the research.

Also, Alasdair Hopwood is allowing you to archive your own false memories publicly here. Go check it out.