It’s not you, it’s me

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It’s complicated. It’s not you, it’s me.

Discerning whether God is wanting you to be ordained is not a simple process. At times it feels like a tightrope, a roller-coaster or a double-edged sword. On one side it is very much about you as you try to work out what God is wanting you to do and whether you want to do it too. On the other side it is about who God is wanting you to work with and whether others want you to do that too.

It is about you and it isn’t.

When I first embarked on trying to discern how God wanted me to minister I did a lot of soul searching and praying. I read books and contemplated their meanings and implications. I thought carefully about the impact on me and my family. I sought to determine not just whether God wanted me to be ordained but whether I wanted to be ordained as well.

I met people where I talked about me, my path to faith and my path to them and beyond: Vicars, Vocations Chaplains, Examining Chaplains, DDOs, Bishops and others – it was hard to avoid becoming inward looking. When I reached the heady-heights of the selection conference (the BAP) I hadn’t realised just how inward looking I had become, Answering the Bishop’s Advisors’ questions in a similar manner to those asked before meant my answers were all about me when it wasn’t supposed to be.

Subsequently I became aware of the discernment paradox: on one hand it is very much about you but equally it is about God working through you. There is a meaning behind the questions asked that I failed to see: the questions may be phrased inwards but the answers need to be focused both inwards and outwards. They may be asking about you, your journey, your faith and your future but they want to know how it impacts on others and God’s Kingdom.

On one hand this realisation was welcomed: I hate taking about me. I hate photographs of me. In fact I have a general dislike of being the recipient of attention. I have lived my life on the edge of shadows and like it. God, however, decided to call me out into the limelight, to lead, preach and contemplate ordination

By ostensibly giving up on the discernment process after the BAP my focus changed from learning about me to learning about others. I was back doing what I prefer: finding out what it’s like to all in somebody else’s shoes and to see the world through their eyes. The focus may be outward looking but the lessons learnt are multifaceted: just as we are blessed by blessing others, we learn about ourselves by learning about others.

The list of people seen as I explored ordination grew. But whilst my focus had changed one thing remained the same: conversations were still starting with me, my path to faith, my path to them and my path beyond.

It is surprisingly hard to avoiding talking about yourself on the discernment journey, even if you don’t want to.

Of course, it is an unavoidable and natural conversational transaction that each time you meet someone on the journey you start by telling them your story. After all, they need to know about you before you can know about them.

Normally you would hear their story and get to know them too but the discernment process is not normal, it is not the establishment of new and continuing relationships; the relationships made on the road to a BAP can be fleeting, often lasting no more than a single encounter. And because there certain information that must be handed over, it is hard to avoid the conversations being one-sided and business like.

But when you know the pitfalls and are actively trying to do the opposite to avoid them it can feel like being the rope in a mental tug-of-war. You know that you need to talk about yourself but you know you need to avoid only talking about yourself. It requires a nimble mind, able to jump between ways of thinking without loosing focus or purpose.

I joined a reading group with other prospective ordinands to read and discuss books of theology and faith together. I devoured the first book and went to the inaugural meeting keen to hear other people’s views and test my thinking against theirs. It was frustrating: the majority of the time was spent talking about ourselves, our journey to faith and the discernment process. The book got barely a quarter of the available time.

Whilst I was disappointed not to have debated the book to the extent I had hoped to, I had gained an insight into other people’s journeys: I had talked about me but had heard about others. I had retained my focus on others and away from myself.

More problematic was helping with some training for future Examining Chaplains, people who help a Church of England diocese to discern whether someone should proceed along the road towards ordination training. I had gone to help them learn and to help prepare myself for when I would be officially reassessed by such people. Naturally it involved talking about me.

Their delight and excitement in hearing about me fed my ego, setting off mental alarm bells; much as I tried I couldn’t steer the conversation away from me or influence outward looking questions. Time was limited and the feedback ever more so, consisting more of self-reflection than anything else. I had noticed how the content of my answers became more selective and less conversational. Previously I would have mentioned every little detail, this time I limited myself to the key points and left it to them to them to decide if they wanted to go deeper.

My pursuit of personal change and enlightenment has continued with meeting yet more people, more vicars and chaplains. And it is in meeting the latter that I have gained a better grasp of the importance of creating a space to listen to others. It is the art of communicating more by saying less, of focusing on their needs whilst also focusing on building a connection through conversation. It is about them not us. It is about reflecting God not ourselves.

Gaining practical insights is proving more problematic though, due to something common to many discerning ordination: finding time and opportunities to see and practice a life you wish to live whilst still living the one you’ve got.

Balancing the need to work to pay the bills, the needs of the family and the ministries that already have a call on our time leaves little time to do other things. Taking time off work creates some time but that is a limited resource; for many time away from work is largely accounted for by the fact that children do not get packed away in a cupboard during the school holidays.

The lack of available time is frustrating, my children though are lovely.

To experience and learn more without the repetition of reciting my discernment journey requires more than one session with one person, group or ministry. The practical insights are not things that can be easily or adequately accomplished in one visit.

With the time not always be available it creates dilemmas, soul searching and many a thing to pray about: are they insights to be pursued now to inform my discernment of whether I should be ordained or not; are they be pursued at another time as part of an ordained ministry; or are they to be pursued as a ministry instead of ordination?

I could spend a lifetime finding out.

The Modelling God

Modelling God and Godly Character

Modelling God and Godly Character

We all have a life on the frontline in the world that’s significant to God. It’s one on which we need to produce and model the fruit of the Spirit, but it doesn’t mean going to fight ISIS armed only with a bunch of grapes and some satsumas. Continue reading

The Good Shepherd and His Sheepdog

Whilst I was ruminating on Jesus being The Good Shepherd I found myself thinking about how people shepherd animals. It may also have had something to do with the fact that before I flew up to Scotland I came across an episode of Top Gear on the television. It was one where the trio of hapless presenters were trying to shepherd sheep using motorbikes. They failed miserably. A lack of communication and skill was their undoing on this occasion. Continue reading

Counting to 10 in prayer

 

Crying with Belgium

Life never stops, even when it does.

In the midst of my commute on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 a terrorist attack ended the commute of others in Brussels. As I began another normal working day others were beginning a nightmare. Terrorism was once more brought from the war zones of foreign fields to the pavements of Europe.

At times such as this it can be hard to know how to respond. All I could do was to pray.

Continue reading

Inside Out: the mission hidden within us

Have you ever noticed how Jesus often manages to do the expected and the unexpected at the same time?

Those on the look out for the messiah 2,000 years ago would have expected Him to have arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey, yet when he did few expected it.

Jesus was what went for a celebrity in His day.  There was no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Periscope to spread a message or get your fix of news and entertainment.  Jesus’s social media was old-school word-of-mouth.  Those that saw, heard or were healed by Jesus told their friends and family about it, who told their friends and family, who told… you get it.

So word got out that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem.  Most people wouldn’t have known what Jesus looked like but it wouldn’t have taken them long to have figured it out: a man upon a donkey encircled and led by an entourage would have drawn people’s curiosity at the very least.

Crowds gathered.  Some were desperate to get some of the healing they had heard about.  Some were curious to see this person they had heard about and some would have been annoyed that He and the crowds he was drawing were disrupting their Passover celebrations.  Some in Jerusalem would have been suspicious, fearful and even angry.

Here He was, a saviour and a threat, being celebrated, cheered and sneered, a celebrity being welcomed. Continue reading

History Repeating

My excitement worries me

If there is doubt, a maybe or simply a curiosity about something it is always worth at least a precursory exploration of the issue rattling around within your thoughts. That exploration may quickly dispel the ‘what if’ and enable it to be forgotten, but it may expand and take you to new places and opportunities that you would have missed had the thought been left unexplored.

That is how the exploration of ordination began for me, and it has both transformed me and served up opportunities I may otherwise have missed. Continue reading

Listen to the Silence

Patiently waiting to move on

If I chose to hide you away, it is for a reason.
I have brought you to this place. Drink in the silence. Seek solitude.
Listen to the silence.
It will teach you. It will build strength.

Let others share it with you.

It is little to be found elsewhere.
Silence will speak more to you in a day than the world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.

Find silence. Find solitude, and having discovered her riches, bind her to your heart.
Frances J. Roberts

Via The Northumbria Community

Doing nothing takes time

Doing Nothing

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a very foreign language.
Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Rilke

I had found as much peace with being rejected for ordination training as was possible. Questions remained over what had happened before, during and after my rejection but the answers remained stubbornly on the horizon. They hung in front of me like an elusive carrot on a stick and for all my efforts to reach them they remained out of reach.

Was the Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) and the preceding period a stand alone lesson to teach and transform me into the person God wanted me to be for the next stage of our journey together? Or was it part a series of lessons, and if it was what was the next one? Was it to attend a second BAP ? Did I even want to go to another? Was it to be ordained? Do I even want to go to a second BAP ? Linked yet separate questions with fathomable way of being answered.

Knock-backs and rejections had robbed me of confidence in myself and my abilities. My doubts and confusion clouded my judgement so it was no wonder that trying to discern what God was trying to teach me in this period did not bring the clarity I needed.

Pursuing answers had become fruitless. To find the answers I had to stop searching for them. Continue reading

A Prayer for the Uncertain

If like me you seem on an endless quest to discern where God wants you to go, or what He wants you to do, you may find this prayer by Thomas Merton helpful.  As others have probably said: the purpose is in the journey, not the destination.
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Thomas Merton

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following Your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please You.
And I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
although I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust You always,
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton 

Find out more about Thomas Merton here.

Producing the fruit of the Kingdom

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Gardening with God

Perhaps you have noticed how when a tree’s branches are exposed at this time of year they look like upside down lungs.  That’s just what God’s designed them to be: our lungs suck the oxygen out of the air and feed it into our bodies; trees suck in the carbon dioxide we breath out, use it and give us back the oxygen we need.

Like a tree takes the waste from our lungs, Jesus takes our rubbish, our sin, and transforms it into food to enrich us and the rest of the vine.  Like a tree connects each leaf, twig and branch to each other by virtue of it’s relationship with the trunk, Jesus does likewise with us.

Continue reading