Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Real life graphs are not all the same

When I was at secondary school I was proud of the fact that I was 'an individual' - I didn't go with the crowd. I was also very lonely as because I was a bit different I didn't really fit in. At school the in-crowd was not where I wanted to be, I was too much of a geek for the people who were trying to fit in with the in-crowd and I was never very confident and struggled to make friends.

Because I have always been on the edge, not quite fitting in to any particular group, sometimes in the centre of the group, but then gradually pushed to the edge, I realised quite quickly that people don't necessarily expect you to be different to them. If someone is found out to be different they're seen as the odd one and difficult to understand. I also began to recognise that people react to news in different ways. Some people want to share their news with the whole world, talking it through, solving problems alongside others and exploring ideas together. Others will keep their news to themselves until it becomes something that is not news any more and they have dealt with it and don't want to analyse it. Then there are all the extremes in between. There are people who want others to fix their problems, and others who don't believe they have a problem to fix ..... 

The thing is when you live in a diverse community (like church should be) is that everyone is not like you. Too often we expect people to be just like us. One of the privileges of being a minister is that people open up to you - they tell you about their lives and what makes them tick. They tell you the story of their faith journey and how they relate to God now. They reveal something of how they deal with life's problems and difficulties and as you get to know them you know how to care for them. 

If as a minister I assumed everyone dealt with life like me I'd miss the beautiful diversity in the people I care for. We are all made in God's image and in the way we relate to others in community we can express that in big ways as we learn about one another, know one another, give space to one another and serve one another. 

We've got to realise that people are different. We've got to recognise that what would make one person shout for joy makes another feel complete peace - it doesn't mean they haven't experienced the same thing, it just means they are different people, expressing their feelings in different ways.

When I was teaching real life graphs I would often get my classes to draw a graph of their emotions during the day. Some pupils would draw big ups and downs. Some would have a flatter line with small troughs and hills. Some would say, emotions? What are they? I don't want to talk about them. 

My graph is quite flat. I get grumpy, but I don't weep very often. I smile, but I don't scream with delight. I probably won't tell you about it or ask you to analyse it with me, I'm a mathematician - mathematicians solve problems alone most of the time.....but I'm there.... level headed and journeying on. 

When we are journeying with others its important to recognise what graph they would draw. God made us all different, and we have to celebrate that, but also honour one another in our differences - never expecting anyone to act exactly like us.

 "I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it".                                      1 Corinthians 12:14-18    

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

'Maybe I don't want to talk to you right now'

I am the sort of person who is happy to spend time with people in companionable silence. I don't need to talk. The thing that makes companionable silence different to just silence is that it doesn't become awkward. There is a recognition that just being there makes the difference and if there are silences it doesn't matter. There is space to enjoy your own thoughts and know that the other person doesn't mind. You don't need to fill the silence, because the silence makes the time together better. 

Now I have a bit more time in my life, because college has broken up for the summer, and the weather is unusually non-Lancashire (in that it is dry) I have been trying to walk more. Yesterday I walked to one of the most beautiful places I can walk to from my house (within a sensible length of time). I always forget how beautiful it is until I walk there. The last time I walked there was in deep snow, but this time it was in full blown summer, and although the same place it was very different. 

There are a few reasons why I walk. Firstly, it is good for me. Secondly, I enjoy it - it helps me stomp out some of the frustrations of the days and gives me time to reflect and thirdly because it is where God and me sometimes have a bit of a conversation - where God speaks to me most - maybe because I just have time to be. 

On the way to the most beautiful place I said to God, 'so tell me, what is it you want me to do next'. I felt him saying to me, 'maybe I don't want to talk to you right now, maybe I just want to walk with you as you enjoy your surroundings'.

There's always that moment when you think, 'well is that actually what God is saying?', yet this made me stop in my tracks. Sometimes we can be so busy looking to the next, we forget the beauty of what is around.... and because of that I walked through the most beautiful place slowly and looked up and around. 

The most beautiful place is a wood, a wood where there are dark places the sun doesn't get to, that even after the recent sunny days are still boggy, a wood where the sunlight shines through and dapples the path ahead, a wood where there are many different types of trees - some old, some new, but beautiful (trees are actually really quite beautiful). 

I noticed that a lot of the trees had branches that were twisting and turning as they were reaching to the light - like the growth in the canopy above changed year on year so the direction of growth of the trees changed year on year. The path of growth is always heading upwards but stops and changes direction from side to side when it needs to. Fixed on the light it knows where to go. 

I often wonder when we try and look at the light of God we look to the step ahead on the road we are going in first before we look at where we are now in relation to him. If we only look in the direction we know then we miss where God's light is actually shining. Yesterday God's light was shining on where I was right then - he wanted me to appreciate his beauty in creation, seeing how creation responds to him and the natural laws he has created. 

God and me in companionable silence. Sometimes that's all I need and I forget that as I wait for something profound. Right now I am determined to rest with him as I wait..... no awkward silence, just peace. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Welcome to Narnia

One of the key points for me in Narnia has always been the lampstand. It represents a world come from to a world revealed. It is a key signpost home and it has links with the past. 

I am blessed to live in a beautiful part of the country where we have our own hill. We don't actually own it, but if you live in Ramsbottom then Holcombe Hill is your hill. It rises above the town, marking a boundary point and an observation point. On top of the hill is Peel Tower that you can see for miles around. When you are coming home, the tower appears, so you know home is near. Living at the foot of the hill occasionally there is an urge to climb the hill. The last time that happened to me was on Easter Monday on 4 hours of sleep. This morning at 6am I had that urge again. 

The thing with climbing the hill is that it takes you above and outside of real life. You can look down, and this morning particularly clearly, even see as far as Manchester. You gradually remove yourself from the world of normality and get time to stop and think. At the top of the hill is a bench. That bench is one of the best placed benches I know with amazing views, yet rarely when I want to sit on it is there anyone else on it - there is always space to sit and be. 

When I go up the hill from my house I tend to go up a cobbled old road. On this road, about half way up, is a lamp post. It's a proper Narnia lamp stand. This morning it signified the removal of myself from all the agitation of everyday life. At that point on the walk I felt I was entering Narnia - an imaginary world detached from the mundane, the irritation, the problems. 

Narnia is not a place where problems disappear. When you think about Narnia it is not a fantasy world of perfection like many other children's books might portray as the problems of the world left are still there, but different. Edmund is still an idiot and makes the wrong choices, Lucy is still an annoying small child, but with great wisdom, Peter is still the annoying older brother, but who wants to look out for his siblings. Susan is still Susan (I never really liked Susan - don't know why). 

Going past the lampstand for me today was not a run away from the problems and difficulties and agitations of normal life but was a step aside from them. A chance to look down and across at them and to say 'God, here you go, help me with this, what's your perspective?'.

When you take some time and sit apart from the world that troubles you it is easier to get some God perspective.

We can't expect to take ourselves into a Narnia of oblivion where all our problems disappear - that place doesn't exist, but in Narnia we might expect to meet Aslan - who in the stories is symbolic of Jesus who takes all of our burdens, helps us to carry them and gives us peace. 

Jesus said this:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”                                   Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Running in last place

My school sports day was held on a field down the road from school as we didn't have a field close to the buildings. We would all troop down one afternoon to watch people run and throw and jump and try and behave ourselves. One race that was never on that afternoon was the 1500 metres, because it took far too long. I once ran it. It was a lonely race. I came last.

When I was teaching, the 1500 metres was always one of the deciders. In the 1500 metres there is always someone in last place. That person is needed for points but how much they are needed isn't realised until they are the only runner finishing for the crucial point. The winning house in sports day could be decided by that point. That runner got encouraged when they were the only runner, but got ignored in the rest of the race.

The last place runner carries the burdens of the team without the team realising that they've been carried. The last place runner only runs because there is no one else to run. The last place runner is the one who is there - only noticed when needed - only noticed when there is nothing better to do. 

The trend when I was at uni was to write nice things about one another on a piece of paper to take away. I've still got a few, but there was one comment that always sticks out - I read it over and over because in some ways it's great, but in some ways it confines me to last place:

'Thanks Claire for being the one to come and chat when I've been on my own'. 

The last place runner. It's OK to be there sometimes but there are times you want to be first - first picked for the team - noticed for your gifts and abilities first rather than only when there is no one else who can do the job. Noticed for the burden you are carrying before you collapse beneath the weight of it. 

There are good things about running in last place but sometimes you need to be walked with, led to the front, recognised, complimented and loved for being someone different to the one who is there when no one else is. 

Jesus said: "So the last will be first, and the first will be last". (Matt 20:16)

But in this he is not saying we are going to swap places, but that we are all given the same opportunity, the same hope, the same gift of grace that means we can be forgiven if we choose to accept the forgiveness God gives through Jesus. 

So as someone who too often finds herself running in last place, jumping up and down and shouting 'I'm here' (one of the problems of being a quiet introvert who needs to have time to think), this gives me hope of  a future where there is no last place. 

But for now..... if, as I am, you are seeking to be Christ-like....... perhaps we need to be looking for those who are running on their own behind the rest of the field we are naturally inclined to cheer on and think about how we might walk with them, encourage them, compliment them, inspire them and enable them as they run to the finish line without collapsing beneath the whole team's burdens or the exhaustion of racing alone.