Monday, 30 September 2013

Taking time over the journey......

When I was learning to teach I quickly learned the art of the three part lesson. Starter, teaching and practising, plenary. Starter gets your brain going, then you do the deep stuff (maths is well deep), then you sum it up. I always felt a bit of a bad teacher when these three parts didn't quite link together. For me the forming of a lesson was a bit of an art form - the flow from one part of the lesson to another meant that the pupils needed to be taken on a journey - whether they liked it or not. 

Sometimes my lessons would not fit nicely into a block of an hour and the three parts would be extended over a series of lessons. These were lessons that generally involved some kind of project - that dreaded group work that I inflict on others but find difficult myself. In these lessons I would be the facilitator and not the teacher, I'd guide and answer the questions, but the learning and teaching would be done by the pupils themselves. These lessons were at their best when I could leave them to it and dream..... Again though, these lessons took the pupils on a journey where from the same base thinking they came up with something beautiful and often very creative, taking the mathematical journey to different stages and arriving at different places. These were the lessons I tended to enjoy most as I watched the learning unfolding before my eyes. 

I've brought a lot of my experience from teaching into ministry. Only a couple of times have I had people say that I sound a bit like a teacher - perhaps when I am getting people to be quiet or when I get people to write stuff down. One of the things that I often have said to me, particularly after a worship service, is 'you put a lot into that' - mostly not in a bad way (like information overload) but in a 'you put a lot of effort into that' kind of way.

I've just finished reading 'The Art of Curating Worship' by Mark Pierson. I wrote a post about it a while ago (it takes me a long time to read any kind of Christian book I'm not reading for college or in preparation for something). What attracted me to this book was the idea of worship leader as curator - it resonated with what I saw as my role in the classroom as more of a facilitator whenever it was possible. Pierson talks of the planning that goes into any worship event, the journey that people are taken on and how the aims of the service should not only be reflected in the preachy bit but throughout the whole event.... and for me.... this feels right. 

So this is why when I am thinking about and planning worship I become absorbed in the event throughout the whole of the week preceding, why it might appear that I put a lot into it (most of the time the ideas are formed when I am doing other stuff, it's just gathering it together). I try and put as much thought into the whole journey (which should continue after the blessing has been said) as I do the sermon. Pierson suggests that planning an act of worship needs to take serious thought and time.... when balancing life sometimes it's difficult to do that... but to honour God, perhaps that time needs to be taken..... the effort is most definitely worth it. 

Interestingly Pierson also says that number 37 of his list of things the church he is part of must be and do is 'party well'. I like that. We should have more parties as church, it's part of our journey of knowing and loving one another (and I love good parties, they are excellent fun). 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

People are weird

People are weird. This is my favourite sentence at the moment. It's true. You engage in conversation or you spend time with other people and you quickly come to the conclusion that people are weird. Not in a bad way (most of the time) but in a confusing way, a way that is difficult to understand, a way that means that you need to begin thinking slightly differently to try and understand where other people are coming from. 

I read a quote on facebook yesterday (thanks to one of my dreaming college friends who did this - I've been quoting it to everyone) .... here it is.....

"You are a creative soul. God never intended for you to be “normal”. Your emotions fluctuate because you feel more than people understand. You’re responsible to be prophetic in your art. Don’t sell out. Stop trying to be normal. Avoid the expected. Don’t deliver what is anticipated. Be willing to do some things that may fail. And, in all of this, you will find who God created you to be: a unique, beautiful – sometimes misunderstood – voice of his hope and love to this world." Stephen Brewster

I have no idea where this quote is from... but I love it. I love the use of the word 'normal'. As an occasional statistician, the word normal reminds me of a bell shaped distribution where 95% of people are within 2 standard deviations of the mean of whatever you're testing - these people would be normal - the more we try and be closer to that mean, the bell shape kind of stretches and squeezes, but there will always be 5% of people who are abnormal. We move the boundaries and different people become weird.....

As an occasional non-statistician normality appears to be what we strive for.... whether normality is fitting in with what is expected, doing what people want, walking on the pavement and not the road (if you have ever walked anywhere with me you will know I generally don't do that), buying a house, having a stable job etc etc 

That sounds a bit boring to me...... 

I love the fact that I live in a quirky town where the only train is a steam train and where half way down my road is a field with three sheep living in it. Most of the time I love the fact that in my working life every day is different because I work with people, and with people you never know what to expect. People are unpredictable. Predictability is that job where I did the same thing every day (like when I became an expert photocopier) and where every house looks the same (it's close on my road, but the sheep make it that little bit different). 

God never intended me to be normal. If you want the same thing all the time then I'm not your person. Level headed though I am (most of the time) I can be slightly erratic, off the cuff and frankly a little bit weird. I collect names for my family tree and do maths for fun. I do pub quizzes and don't care about coming last. I can be intensely grumpy and don't want to tell you why. 

That's all OK though.... because I'm not normal.... and I'm proud of it. God created me the way I am..... not like anyone else, but in his image. If I suppress who I am I suppress who God created me to be. 

As a Christian there is no way I can be normal.... Christians are peculiar people. We follow Jesus - who is both human and divine - he was born of a virgin, died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. If I truly believe that (which I do) there is no way in my life and ministry that I can conform to the world's expectations. I need to avoid the expected behaviour of a religious institution and be creative and surprising in the way I serve God. That's what being a disciple of Jesus does to you.... never expect me to be anything but a little bit peculiar - Jesus gives me freedom to be weird. 

I love 1 Peter 2:9 and discovered today that the King James Version uses the word 'peculiar' in its translation: 

'9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:'

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Some ifs and not so many buts.....

When you watch children do things... get places.... discover, often the way they do it seems strange and alien. It doesn't make sense because we have developed our own ways of doing stuff that are simple and on the whole make life that little bit easier. 

Take this morning for example, to get the the raisins held by a 2 year old's Mum involved climbing over a large inflatable bed thing.... we looked and wondered why she didn't just walk round. It doesn't make sense for us to take the difficult route, but for her, it was the most direct route and made the most sense. The inflatable bed thing was climbable, so why not climb it? 

There will come a day when she won't choose the most difficult route, as through trial and error she will learn that walking round the obstacle is easier. It makes sense. To walk round the obstacle means avoiding any difficulty. She won't remember climbing over, but it will be engrained in her subconscious that it is not the best route. She will learn from what happened and then move on..... there's no 'what if I had done it differently, it would have been easier', it's more like when it comes to next time the flow of movement might be different....

Sometimes I'd love to be 2 again - where the decisions we make are immediate, and the 'what ifs' don't even come into play. When you watch a child discover you see their freedom from what has gone.... but as we grow it is easier to care about what others think, about our chosen routes being wrong, about how we might have done things differently. 

When we ask 'what if?' we can't change what's happened. Yeah, we took a difficult route, we can learn from that.... We said the wrong thing, we can apologise and move on..... We did something really stupid... life still maps out in front of us and not behind us....

I spend too much time thinking about the what ifs. I am a deep thinker by nature so will evaluate and analyse every encounter I have had and every thing I say or someone else says. This is great most of the time - makes me a reflective practitioner..... but sometimes I get bogged down in the 'what ifs'. It would be so much easier if I could look at the inflatable bed thing I've climbed over and say, 'well that was really hard and actually hurt' and then work it out differently when I am in that situation again. I might learn to do it differently next time, I might have to deal with the hurt or the consequences of bad decisions, but I'm not going to get hung up on the what ifs.....

We can't change the past, we've got to work with what has happened. Whether it is someone else doing or saying something really stupid, or us doing it ourselves, we can't lie down in the what ifs and dream of a time where the paths might have been different. Past decisions, experiences and mistakes might need to be worked through to take the next step, but perhaps the question should not be 'what if it had been different?', but instead 'what can I do with this now it has happened?'. what ifs - they are God's - I give them to him to take them away... and now....I need to trust God that he will help me do what it is right with the things that have happened so I can continue along what is the best path that he lays in front of me. 

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.                                Proverbs 3:5-6