Archive for September, 2009

Folding Stars

“Take a long, hard, look at yourself.

How did you end up here?”

From “Folding Stars” by Biffy Clyro.

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I’ve been thinking about my life journey of late and a few simple words have come into focus.

There have been so many times when, if I’m brutally honest with myself, I’ve been pretty self-centred.  My drivers in life where all about me.  What should I study?  Where would I end up?  How could I find fulfillment?  Who would I go out with and how would that gratify me?  How could enjoy the lifestyle I dreamed for myself?

Even my prayer life was often centred around these sorts of questions.  I could dress that up as seeking “guidance” or “God’s will for my life”.  Such descriptions were true, but my over-arching motivation was more about how God might help me with those things and bless me with the outcomes, rather than how might I be changed or more able to be used for Him in and through all of those things?

The times that I get hassled or grumpy are invariably because my plans need to be altered or things aren’t going my way or I’m doing one thing when I’d rather be doing something else.  The most menial things can set off discontent in my mind.  I have to consciously step in and over-write that selfishness.

So the first word is “selfish”.  It’s not an adjective I’d like to attribute to myself, but one, which in the cold light of day, I need to regularly confront.  If that is true, then all it means is that, like all of us, I can be self-centred.  I can put me, myself and I in the middle of everything. 

In old school language someone once said “sin has “I” at the middle”.  That’s what it boils down to, even if that’s not the vocabulary I find easy to use.  Mind you, anything less than that and I am kidding myself.  “He who claims he is without sin…” anyone?  So, the second word is “sin”.

So what do I do with that?  I could feel lousy or label myself, but I reckon that’s totally opposite to what God would want.  What can I learn?  How can I orientate myself?

That leads me to another word – “submission”.  Now that’s a word loaded with negative connotations in our post-modern, life after God, world.  Most notably we hear people saying that the bible says that “wives should submit to their husbands”.  Verses like that get twisted and abused.  Actually, in my reading of it it also says that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church.  That means sacrifice of the highest order.   So actually, I refocus my attention away from “selfishness” or “sin” and onto “submission” and “sacrifice”.

That all sounds terribly “woe is me”.  It’s not.  Sometimes I just need to stop, look beyond myself and what God/the church/others can do for me and ask “what I can do for them?”  Through that I reckon I might just meet some new folks, experience some new situations, learn some new things, gain a little wisdom and grow more into the person I was always meant to be.

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Surf Wax America

“You take your car to work.  I’ll take my board.
And when your out of fuel, I’m still afloat”.

From “Surf Wax America” by Weezer.

I usually cycle to work.  The car normally only makes it in if it is needed for a particular appointment.  I do, however, love the days when the only reason it accompanies my journey to work is because my surfboard is strapped to the roof and I’m heading out into the sea at the end of the day.  That thought keeps me smiling all day long…

I was meant to be  heading up north for a weekend’s surfari with a group of folks, many of whom I don’t know, this weekend.  Sadly, I’ve been nursing fluid on my knee for the past 6 weeks and I’ve reluctantly accepted my friend Sam’s advice that 4 to 6 full-on surf sessions in BIG SWELL is only likely to set back my recovery…So, I’m back to the doctors to see if they can offer any more advice or physio and I’ve got myself booked on another trip in November. 

Sam’s lastest email read “You sound gutted, but don’t be – I’ll be on the November tour and it will be amazing!  I’ve booked you in”.  That made me smile.  Hopefully it will be amazing – amazing scenery, amazing fun, a sense of amazment at the vastness of the ocean and its refreshing and cleansing qualities, amazing laughs over food and drinks and maybe just some little significant words in season that nudge us all a little closer to amazing grace…

I’ve been in training for this trip -trying to cycle lots, do some weights, read surf books and watch surf movies to get me into the right headspace.  I watched this short clip and it scared the living daylights out of me.  This is for real.  Whilst I’m hoping we score decent swell and an offshore wind in November and when we’re in Cornwall next month, I never want to see anything like this unless it’s on a DVD!

Life’s What You Make It

“Baby, life’s what you make it.

Celebrate it.

Anticipate it.

Yesterday’s faded.

Nothing can change it.

Life’s what you make it”

From “Life’s What You Make It” by Talk Talk.

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I’ve been thinking a lot in recent weeks about stories and how they help us make sense of our place in time and space.

We use metaphors to describe life.  I most frequently think of it as a journey.  What if it is a story? 

Famous people often get asked, “Who would play you in the film of your life story?”  What a bizarre question to be asked of the rest of us.  My life feels a lot more uneventful than how I imagined it might have played out when I was a teenager.  No international stardom for me.  My life often seems hum-drum and run of the mill, but I love it too.  When I stop to think about it, I realise there are shed loads of things to be thankful for.

As I think about my own story, I realise how often I shun or avoid the word “Christian” in certain company.  It holds so many negative connotations.  It is loaded with baggage which would lead people to jump to a whole bunch of assumptions about me and my world view – many of which would be wrong.  Maybe it’s time to reclaim what being a follower of Jesus is?

Our church leadership are an amazing bunch of folks.  I’ve seen little glimpses of so much that is done behind the scenes in recent weeks.  I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on a Sunday morning.  Karl concluded a four part series this week and his message about the restoration of all things was so refreshing, so engaging and so inspiring.  Why have we so often made it about something it’s not?  Isn’t it time to start living for what we believe in?

I recently heard someone pray for “death to religion”.  That may sound shocking to some, but I knew what they meant and couldn’t agree more.  What if we started to get a fresh vision for what we’re meant to be making of our lives?  To realise that we can invest our time and energies in things of significance and still enjoy life to the full. 

If history is ultimately a story, then as today fades to yesterday that itself forms part of the story.  We have the ability to write ourselves in or out.  Life’s what we make it.  Our decisions have consequences and we’re not meant to figure it all out alone.

Sometimes we need to humble ourselves and abandon ourselves to something bigger than us.  Today it was hugely meaningful for me to get past the awkwardness factor and to actually go to the front of our church and have one of the leaders place oil on my head and to pray for anointing.  To pray for a realisation that I am who I am and that I don’t need to pretend to be someone else.  There’s something heartening to realise that people who know our lifestyles can pray specifically into them.  To pray about: the situations I feel I can coast through on my own strength; the meetings and presentations that I feel more apprehensive about; my words and conduct in the day to day goings on of the office and the wider circle of people my work brings me in contact with; my role and responsibilities at home and in family life; the time I’ll spend with friends surfing this week. 

There’s something refreshing about stopping, being still and refocusing on how we live our day to day lives. 

Baby, life’s what you make it.

Common People.

“I took her to the supermarket.

I don’t know why, but I had to start it somewhere”.

From “Common People” by Pulp.

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I read this story of religious belief, hoodies, Jedi-knights and Tesco over the weekend.  Intrigued?  Click here.

Testimony.

“I know what you’re gonna say when things don’t go my way.

You say “I don’t fault your faith.  I still think that it’s true”.

I know what you’re gonna do when faced with people like me.

You say “I don’t know what you want, but this is not what you need”.

And I want to know, I want to know.

Why everybody looks to the past to be their testimony?

When all that I can recall is I was bored and lonely.

Tell me what’s wrong with today?  Tell me what’s right about tomorrow?

And I can’t believe you when I know that you’re wrong.

Why can’t you wake up and see that we are not who we claimed we could be?

I know what you believe, but, you’re not the same as me,

 so don’t push me around and tell me the same old story.

When everybody looks to the past to be their testimony.

When all that I can recall is was I was bored and lonely.

Tell me what’s wrong with today?  Tell me what’s right about tomorrow?

From “Testimony” by calamateur.

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We all love stories.  We identify with characters, root for the under-dog, look to the hero, get sucked into the story and anticipate the way it will play itself out.

What’s your story?  What’s mine – and how much of it would I willingly tell you if you asked me that question?

We have this tradition in Christian circles where people give their “testimony”.  I recall as a teenager that it was almost something that was expected in youth group circles.  It’s not something I’ve done in that sort of public speaking format since I was about 17.  There is something great about hearing people’s stories, but that sort of set-up isn’t the kind of thing that would ever naturally pop into my typical conversation. 

A couple of years ago myself and three other thirty-somethings decided to all write down our “testimonies” and email them to eachother.  It was interesting to realise that we’d all lost a bunch of dreams that we had held at 17.  Life looked very different now and involved a whole load of responsibilities that would have scared the living daylights out of our teenaged selves.  And yet, these were the places and situations we all found ourselves in.  It wasn’t a case that we had arrived, but that we were still journeying, still trying to make sense of things and figure stuff out.  Still trying to model Christ and make wise decisions whilst also living with the consequences of decisions we’d already made.

The older we get, the more stories we have and the harder I find it to draw out what the real life affirming or defining moments are.  They are numerous and they still occur fairly regularly.

It’s been good to chat with the little small group of folks who inhabit our home weekly about all our hang ups with “evangelism” and all our negative experiences of it.  So many of us have been fed a guilt trip about “making the most of every opportunity” and being so scared of seeming weird or thinking we need to have a different personality or a PhD in theology and apologetics to actually share our faith with someone.  As a result we stay silent all too often.

We’ve been chatting around some DVDs called “Just Walk Across The Room” and it’s been quite liberating to realise all we’re really meant to do is live our lives in a transparent way, to be real, to form genuine friendships with no ulterior motives – to preach the gospel and only when necessary to use words.

That said, I’m trying to figure out what my story actually IS?  How do I explain it in my own words, with brevity and clarity so that I always have an answer for the hope I have within?

Natalie’s Party

“Heading for the beach, head for the sea.

Belongs to you belongs to me”.

From “Natalie’s Party” by Shack.

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I love the beach.  Just to kick off my shoes or Birkenstocks and walk on the sand or to submerge my feet in the cool water.  I love those rare times where I have needed to stoop and to walk, bent over, into the wind – wrapped up as the white sea foam cascades with my sole aim of enjoying the battering and looking forward to the shelter of a warm cafe…

This week BBC’s Panorama unearthed a frightening story of the state of many of Britain’s beaches and the resultant water quality of our coastlines.  One particularly novel stunt was for the reporter to drive an ice-cream van around Cornish beaches and to secretly film customers.  When he handed them their ice-cream he warned them that there was a 1 in 7 chance that they might get ill if they ate the ice-cream they all looked baffled and refused to take it. 

Who would willingly take that risk?  Yet, many of the beaches that are monitored by the Environment Agency and SEPA and which have “good” or “excellent” blue flag status offer such risks for those who venture into the water.  This affects those who walk dogs, whose kids play on the beach, surfers, canoeists, kite-boarders, body boarders, etc.  You can find out more here.

Surfers Against Sewage are trying to place pressure on Scottish Water to clean up their act.  If we get success with our first campaign then we can focus on other Scottish beaches.  Our first target is Pease Bay in East Lothian.  We need to get 500 signatures by next week.  We’re only halfway there.  Could you take a few seconds to add your support by clicking here?

Wrapped Up In Books

“I will say a prayer, just while you are sitting there.
I will wrap my hands around you.
I know it will be fine.
We’ve got a fantasy affair.
We didn’t get wet, we didn’t dare.
Our aspirations, are wrapped up in books.
Our inclinations are hidden in looks”.

From “Wrapped Up In Books” by Belle And Sebastian.

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We had a rare chance to enjoy a night wandering our city as summer waned to an end and the festival reached its climax the other week.  I felt strangely sussed and bookish as we trod through the marquees that housed the International Book Festival and which inhabited Charlotte Square, a green space in Edinburgh’s West End usually gated and locked off to the city’s residents.

We managed to catch my favourite author, Douglas Coupland, do a reading from his new novel “Generation A”.  The crowd were eating out of his hands even though we discovered he was pretty hopeless at reading his own prose and several of his opening jokes died completely. 

The Q and A session was wonderful.  He came over as warmer than I imagined from his type-casting of himself in J-Pod.  His mind wandered as he talked of our unique point in history, listening to an author who made his name with “Generation X” in 1991 and was now reading from an old form of media (a book) in a world where a largely collapsed bank was providing corporate sponsorship to an event where everyone was familiar with technology that had contributed to it’s downfall – at a point in time where everything was up for grabs.  He had such insight and wonderment of the near future and the role of advancing technology and its effect upon the human condition.

As social networking is often portrayed as enabling us to present an improved version of our virtual selves and to be insular and have less social-interaction, his new novel reverts to the idea of people telling stories to make sense of their place in the world.  Isn’t that what we have all loved and learned from throughout history? – Stories?

As for the greatest story ever told, Coupland mused about his own family’s involvement in fundamentalist Christianity in previous generations and his own parent’s desire not to impose that upon their three sons.  And, yet, Douglas said that he always had a sense of curiosity about such things and whilst he couldn’t picture God, he believed in the idea…

It was a fascinating night with someone who would now definitely be at my fantasy dinner party.


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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