Extending God’s Kingdom’s Reach, aka The Prayer of Jabez

I was invited to speak at Holy Trinity church in Combe Down, Bath on 15th February 2015 on the subject of Extending God’s Kingdom Reach.  The 2 readings during the service were 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 5:16 to 6:2.  Below is an edited version of what, after much prayer and contemplation, I felt called to say.

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The Big D

It isn’t easy being green

There sat Kermit, all alone.  Blending into the background, feeling overlooked.  Everyone, everything, seemed so much more attractive than he felt.  He felt anything but special.  But…

But…

But Kermit realised that there were some wonderful things that were a bit like him.  They were big, they were friendly and important.  The though perks up Kermit, he rises to a brief high before coming down to a level where he is able to accept that he is who he is.  He’s not jumping for joy but he’s not in the depths of despair.  Kermit feels okay.

Kermit had had the Big D.

Once there was the Big C. It was the medical equivalent of Voldemort, an illness that people felt unable to call by its full name.  Over time people began to talk about cancer but as a concept, or as something that affected other people.  Admitting to suffering from it was not the done thing.  Thankfully this is less true today, although some cancers like bowel and testicular cancer remain subjects people don’t like to talk about.

Cancer has changed from being a taboo subject one which supporters raise phenomenal amounts of money to fund research into.  Sadly there remain illnesses and diseases which continue to be taboo subjects.  The Big D is one of them.

Despite many high profile sufferers that have talked eloquently about their own battle with depression (Ruby Wax and Katherine Welby-Roberts to name but two) it and many other mental illnesses remain taboo subjects for much of society.

Depression as a topic of conversation is approaching the stage most cancers have long since passed.  People are starting to talk about is as a concept or as something affecting other people, but finding people who are able to admit to suffering from it can be hard to find.

There are many reasons why people are not admitting to suffering from depression, at least not outside the comforts of anonymity.  Reactions to someone with depression can have far reaching consequences, far beyond their mental health. Jobs can be put at risk, promotion and future prospects can be trampled on and never be fulfilled.

Depression is not feeling sad, nor is it feeling a bit down.  Everyone experiences moods in peaks and troughs, but what may make one person sad or indifferent may make another person depressed.  Nor does the sense of meaning correlate to make the trivial a thing that only frustrates.

How one person becomes depressed is unique to them and understanding it is difficult even for them, let alone a carer.  My experience has shown depression in part to be the lack of hope, motivation and energy, the irrational becoming rational and being overwhelmed by everyday interactions; that this is a simplistic and incomplete description indicates how complex depression can be to talk about and to understand.

Seeking to understand the illness is though the wrong place to start, as is attempting to offer advice and solutions.  Those seeking to help the depressed need start my examining their heart towards the depressed: is it one of compassion or one of frustration? Do they want the person to ‘snap out of it’ or do they want to simply be in the presence of the depressed without saying a thing?  Sometimes the only way to help is by not helping.  Sometimes the demand to be left alone and to not talk about things is a cry to be helped and talk about things.  It is a nightmarish and confusing situation for anyone wanting to help a sufferer.

My prayers for people on all sides of depression will continue: for compassion, understanding and patience in carers, employers and friends of sufferers; and for peace, strength and a willingness to reach out for help for sufferers.  Above all I pray that you will be able to find the hope in God that I did and cling onto in my darkest moments.

This is the end of the blog post I was intending to publish.  However…

As reading personal experiences of things are often the best way of understanding something a piece on my experiences of depression follows.  Feel free to stop reading now, especially if you don’t like reading what can feel like a piece of self-pitying because although I have tried to avoid that it can be difficult to avoid it when writing about depression.

If you don’t read any further but are affected by depression in anyway, and especially if you are a member if a church, you may find the Mental Health Access Pack helpful.  The video below gives an overview of how it will help you, more information is available at http://www.mentalhealthaccesspack.org.

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We are family

How we view our relationship with each other affects our chances of getting along with each other.

How we view our relationship with each other affects our chances of getting along with each other.

Turn on the TV, listen to the radio, open your social media apps and one thing is clear, we don’t seem to be able to get on which each other very well.  For a supposedly tolerant society, tolerance is in short supply.

When we don’t like what we hear we can turn off the TV, close the apps or simply switch to something or someone we do like the sound of.  If someone annoys or offends us we can choose to walk away.

I saw this first hand within the environmental movement of the 1990s.  Working with various campaigning groups I had lots of debates whilst about how to influence a change in behaviour towards the use of cars.

I argued that we needed to establish relationships with those who had not bought into the need to live more sustainably.  I suggested that we should acknowledge where people were, their needs and desires and work from there to show why they should change.  Others argued that direct action was needed.  Whilst that can be true, it isn’t always.

In order to persuade people to use their cars less one person suggested standing in the road to block the path of drivers.  They would use this opportunity to engage with the person by and ‘advising’ them of the errors of their ways.

The direct action approach certainly grabbed people’s attention but it didn’t achieve the objective.  Instead of influencing a positive change in their behaviour it influenced a negative view of environmentalists and environmentalism. The opportunity to influence a person had been lost because the relationship between the 2 groups had been lost as soon as it had been established.

With more consensus on an issue the disagreements tend to become less inflammatory, though they still occur.  When an issue, such as environmentalism, reaches such a point disagreements still occur but being less inflammatory are less likely to make people walk away and be lost to the debate.

Keeping people in a discourse is essential if progress towards any form of consensus, harmony or agreeable disagreement is going to be made.  That requires people to be in relationship with each other.  How we view other people and our relationships with them affects how tolerant we are and how likely we are to persevere when things get difficult.

Should we view others as strangers, as friends or as relatives?

Viewing people as strangers is a significant cause of the rise of ethnic and racial tensions. The less we know about people the less likely we can learn from them or influence them.  Prejudices are created by a lack of information, by snippets of truth amidst inaccuracies and lies.

The current fear over migration that politicians are seeking to capitalise upon is in part due to a lack of knowledge of migrants.  Seeing a person or group of people as strangers keeps some distance between us and them.  It contributes to a lack of willingness find out the truth between the alarmist headlines.  Soundbites and rhetoric heard but not questioned are more likely to be absorbed as truth, even if there is no truth in what has been said.

Viewing people as friends is a step towards engaging with and understanding issues with which we might know little or might struggle with.  For a friendship to exist respect is required, as well as some common understanding or enjoyment.

Friendships can be a fragile form of relationship though.  They are a transient relationships and can come and go.  They may survive changes in circumstances and locality, but rarely do they last from the beginning of life to the end.

Friendships form by an act of choice and will, but we are all part of a family that we did not choose to belong to.  Bonds are friendship can be tremendously strong, but the bonds that link family members are stronger because of their creation outside of our will.

We may go through hell and high water for friends but history tells us we do more, value more, go through more for families, even for those families we wouldn’t have joined by choice.

Differences of opinions, outlook, sexuality and so many things are more likely to accepted between family members than between friendships.  If we don’t like what a friend thinks or does we can break the bonds, the friendship can cease.  If we don’t like what a family member thinks or does we can’t remove them from the family, even if we can choose not to see or talk with them.

Families are not easy but when they do break down it is the permanent bonds which provide the hope of reconciliation.  Like the prodigal son that had burnt his bridges and apparently destroyed his relationship with his father, all is never lost.

What if we viewed each other, even complete strangers or enemies, as part of our family?

It can be argued that we are all related, that we come from a single source. You may view that source as a ‘big bang’ event that came about naturally or as the act of will of a god, but everything starts somewhere.

Agreeing that we are all related after all may be a stretch too far but viewing someone as a family member changes things. Embracing a sense of permanence encourages, almost forces, us to try to understand each other and to establish a harmonious understanding, if not agreement.

I cannot change or be changed by someone whether they be my brother, sister, friend or family but I can hope to influence them and permit people to influence me.  Once a relationship is broken we have lost that chance to change or be changed.  Our positions and opinions, whether correctly formed or not, become entrenched.

We might never agree and forever be frustrated by our differing opinions, but through thick or thin as family members we have a place, a relationship, in which we can keep coming back to listen to each other.

Whatever gets you angry and incensed do your best to play the long game, to view people as a permanent part of your family. The strength and comfort of familial bonds can create the type of place we need to live in, one in which we continually seek to understand and respect each other, even when we don’t like what we see or hear.

If we do that, and if we put aside our desire for an instant solution or agreement, we will provide a safer place to express and exchange our opinions, even ones that some might find unpalatable or offensive. We might walk away from each other at times but at least we can we come back into the family fold and start the conversation once again.

We will find more agreement, more consensus and more harmony as family than as strangers.

Unpastoralised

Like a phoenix from the ashes, I will rise.

Loathing, disdain and vitriol threaded their way through the report, it was not pleasant reading.

I had been handed the report by the BAP Advisers by my DDO and read it in silence.  Its tone took me aback.  Never before had I read such a bitter report.  It was anything but constructive, instead it seemed intent on destroying me, my spirit and my hopes. Continue reading

Please Sir, can I have some more?

My focus is back on my family, but ordination isn't out of the picture yet.

My focus is back on my family, but ordination isn’t out of the picture yet.

The Bishop’s report came as I was heading home from work.  I was a passenger in more ways than one and leapt to the email like I had done with each incoming email throughout the day.

The opening complimentary paragraph passed me by as I went straight to the reason that I wasn’t recommended.  It was frustratingly short, vague and confusing.  Concerns had been expressed against some the selection criterion but the explanation was limited at best.

I didn’t recognise some of the person being described and there were things that were simply unfair.  What was more painful though was the person I did recognise.  The Advisers had not taken to me.
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The Land of Confusion

Stuck in a cul-de-sac with no reverse gear

Stuck in a cul-de-sac with no reverse gear

I could tell by her tone of voice that it wasn’t good news.

The call from my DDO came earlier than expected.  The Advisers at my BAP had not recommended me for ordination training.  I felt numb.

I couldn’t find many words to keep the conversation going for long.  There didn’t seem much point either when I was told that we wouldn’t find out why for almost a week.

The future that I had been preparing for had fell apart in an instant.  I had been preparing for rejection too but experiencing it is very different.  My emotions took the expected hit.  It felt like a light had gone out, like a door slammed in my face.  I knew that I would find it tough to hear such news, that I would be in a state of grief, but I hadn’t planned for my mind to be hit hard as well. Continue reading

Strange days (aka Going to a BAP)

A sanctuary for strange days

A sanctuary for strange days

It is done.  My Bishops’ Advisory Panel is over.  It was quite an experience, quite a week.  There are many people’s experience of a BAP that can be read, many practically focused, some even dealing with the pain of not being recommended.  This is my account of my experience; an account of the emotions, fears and joys that someone has and can go through and that needs more words than other types of accounts of going to a BAP.

So if you’re willing and ready, read on! Continue reading

The time is now

That was the time but the time is now: Ely now is my BAP, Ely then was with singing in Mr Swallow's choir.

That was the time but the time is now: ‘that’ was singing in Mr Swallow’s choir in Ely Cathedral, ‘now’ it’s Ely for the BAP – 2 visits, 1 journey.

The time has come.  The culmination of 17 months exploring ordination has come to this.  This week I attend a Bishops’ Advisory Panel.

It is also 1 year to the day that I published my first blog post, my attempt at moving out of my comfort zone and documenting the highs and lows of the discernment process.

It all began, consciously at least, when I sensed God suggest I take a look at it so I didn’t wonder ‘what if?’ later in life.  I accepted His invitation and pushed at the door. Continue reading

T minus 1 week

Wells Cathedral

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2

I’m worn out.  I haven’t even got to the Bishops’ Advisory and I’m worn out.

I knew this was coming.  It wasn’t a word from God, a message from the Holy Spirit. It was far more mundane than that. It was a mixture of circumstances and the compression of 6 months BAP preparation into 6 weeks.

After putting our house in market last week, in an equal act of faith and practicality, we had been overwhelmed by the response.  We had put our house on the market previously and had 1 offer in 10 months.  This time, admittedly with a different set of economic conditions, we had 4 offers in 4 days.  The house was sold, subject to contract, in under a week.

Now if God isn’t part of our house sale I will eat my hat, and believe me when I say that I don’t like eating hats. Continue reading