Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hey! Hey! For Easter Day!

Happy Easter!

Holy Week has been very strange...

Being away in Sweden, then away on holiday, and then Holy Week has been very the moment, I'm feeling a bit dislocated.

Yesterday, in search of a rainy-day activity, we took Susannah and Noah to the cinema for the first time, to see Pooh's Heffalump Movie. Noah sat in the chair, an arm on each arm-rest, dipping-into a tub of pop-corn held between his knees, as if he were the director watching rushes at the end of the day! I think it was a big hit with both of them. First movies are a big milestone - I was much older (E.T.).

After the kids went to bed last night, Jo set an Easter-egg 'hunt' for them through the living- and dining-rooms, which they enjoyed doing this morning. Although we were perfectly aware that the clocks went forward one hour last night, we were all too tired to get up this morning, so ended up running late anyway...

Richard, Kathryn and Milly England came back to ours for lunch after church this morning, and stayed all afternoon. It was lovely to spend time with them. And to eat roast lamb after giving up meat for Lent.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Catch Up

Saturday 12th March.
Jo helped Matt and Berneice move most of their things to the cottage they'll be living in when they get married, while I spent time with Susie and Noah, which was great having been away. In the evening, Jo and I went out to dinner with friends, and, as we hadn't been able to find a babysitter, we took S&N with us, to put them to bed there...which didn't work very well! Poor little people; two disturbed nights in a row...

Our friend had just found out the night before that his father has a brain tumour; but they didn't want to cancel dinner, as they were hoping for something approaching normalcy at the end of a hard day. I don't know if we delivered. I think it was a good evening, but next time I travel I think I want space to talk about the trip with Jo when I get back...

Sunday 13th March.
Church in the morning, including pastoral crises; Jo's parents for lunch and the afternoon. Still no time to process the trip with Jo. All feel very strange.

Monday 14th March.
Jo is out again this morning (and this evening), but we're all off on holiday tomorrow, so - catch up then. For now, time to get some thoughts down in words! And, right now, time to collect Susannah and Noah from nursery.


I had a wonderful time in Sweden. Here are my thoughts, day-by-day:

Tuesday 8th March.
My heart sank momentarily when Matt and I got to the train platform at 0610 to see the train for Manchester Airport pulling away. The next one wasn't for another hour, which was too late. But there was this slightly odd bloke who started telling us all about the trains - that the train to Manchester Piccadilly (change there for the airport - indeed, this was the train we'd intended to catch) would be along soon; everything we needed to know - but it didn't look like he himself was going to get on a train (and he certainly wasn't a railway employee). Perhaps he was just one of those much-ridiculed train spotters, and I've got an over-active imagination; but I just wonder whether he was, in fact, an angel...

Fair enough, an airport is a 24-hour bubble, but I was shocked at how many men were drinking pints of lager before 0900...a lot of Manchester United fans were flying to Milan to watch their team play AC Milan, and it was actually quite ugly and quite sad; I didn't feel threatened, but could easily have done...

It has been a glorious day all journey, with fantastic views from the plane windows. Denmark is so flat, a patchwork of snow-covered fields lined with wind turbines...The plane from Copenhagen to Gothenburg was small, and got battered by turbulance as we made our approach. My friend Leif met us at the airport, which really made my day, bringing a big smile to my face and my heart. It was great to catch up with him on the car ride to Ah.

Ah is a beautiful spot for a diocesan centre, which remains wonderfully tranquil despite being much-used. It was great to see some familiar faces, to be greeted like an old friend. and there was an incredible sunset over the bay. Mind you, these Swedes work themselves hard when it comes to meetings...I took the evening off to prepare for tomorrow.

Wednesday 9th March.
I can't express how good it feels to be here, like being with old friends, so welcoming and appreciative, so open to what I am bringing. and this place is so beautiful. It's also very significant in the history of the Swedish church. God has been doing a work here since the 1930's. In the 1980's church leaders like David watson and John Wimber spoke here - and now I'm standing on the same stage; it's a strange feeling!

The theme of the conference is, "Continue to build the church." In the morning I did a three-hour session (that includes Leif interpreting everything I said into Swedish, a short break in the middle, and group-time towards the end) on equiping the church for mission by helping people identify how God has made them (as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher), understanding how each one relates to the others, and releasing people to operate within these roles. Many people found it helped make a lot of sense of their own situation - especially the younger guys. In the afternoon I had a seminar, which I did as a question-and-answer consultation, to help people start to apply the principles I had spoken about to their particular contexts. It was well attended - they really wanted to engage.

Matt is having a fantastic time too, really engaging with the young adults - snowball throwing on the shore...

Thursday 10th March.
Again, I'm just enjoying being here so much. And what I am bringing is clearly being met with much appreciation. People keep thanking me, but I feel like I'm the priveleged one.

Another three-hour morning session followed by a seminar to help start to apply the principles. This time, on growing missional communities - the "middle-sized" everyone-involved expression of church life that has been lost in Europe as congregations have focused solely on the front-led celebration dimension of church life for centuries.

Hans and Leif have asked me to consider coming and doing a youth conference they would organise specially in Gothenburg, and also to work with some churches when I'm here - both of which I would love to do. So relationships really seem to be taking off. And I've enjoyed talking with some of the youth workers again today.

I've spoken with Jo, Susannah and Noah on the phone each day. Apparently Noah waved goodbye today when I said, "I'll see you soon. Goodbye!" How cute?! It will be great to see them all tomorrow night...

Friday 11th March.
The conference ended at lunch today, and it was good to stay until then even though I wasn't doing anything official today. After a quick lunch, we were driven to the airport (I know this is a bit childish, but I couldn't resist taking a photo of an IKEA store from the window of a Volvo - "when in Rome.." as Matt put it). The journey was fine, until we got to Heathrow when things started to descend into a farce of "how many times/in how many ways can we get lost?"...and then stopped being funny when our connecting flight to Manchester was delayed so that we took off from London at the time we were supposed to be landing. Which wouldn't have mattered so much if the kids hadn't come with Jo to the airport to pick us up. As it was, we got home - exhausted - at midnight (or, 0100 Swedish time).

Monday, March 07, 2005


We spent the evening with our friends Louise, Jane and Christine, all of whom we are supporting in leading local church communities here in Sheffield (there are several other people who make up this group, including Louise's and Jane's respective husbands, who weren't with us tonight; and it felt good being a small gathering on this occasion.) They are a great bunch, whom we love very much.

Tomorrow morning we're getting up really early. Jo is giving Matt Broomhall and me a 6:00am lift to the train station, en route (via Manchester and Copenhagen) to Gothenburg. I get back late on Friday night (I'm unlikely to be able to post while I'm away). And I think I'll be doing much the same sort of thing there, just on a bigger (national conference!) scale...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Weight In Gold

Ounce-for-ounce, natural vanilla essence is more costly than gold. In fact, ounce-for-ounce, I think that vanilla is the most expensive commodity in the world. It grows on an orchid - a bit like the orchids my dad grows in his sun room, except that this one has to grow longer than a house is high before it bears fruit...The raw product is rare - it cannot be cultivated on 'vanilla farms' - and the process of extracting the vanilla is a long and delicate one.

I was reminded today of a rare but precious commodity: encouragement.

Ounce-for-ounce, encouragement is more precious than vanilla. People grow in response to encouragement, in healthy ways that result in all sorts of good things. Without encouragement, no one would ever fulfil their potential, or even come anywhere near close to doing so. Unlike vanilla, encouragement can be cultivated. It's a costly work, but definitely worth it!

Be a commodity trader in encouragement, and you'll get a great return on your investment.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Small Is Beautiful

I'm so proud of our kids. They've played together, and on their own, and with us, so happily today. And this evening we all went out to Ruth's birthday party - Happy Birthday for tomorrow, Ruth! - which ran from 5:00pm so families could come too (though we didn't get ourselves in gear soon enough to get there that early...). I watch Susie - shy with strangers at the moment, generally introvert like her dad - and Noah - always looking for an audience to perform to, a real extrovert dynamo - and feel so priveleged to be part of their lives, for them to be part of mine.

Friday, March 04, 2005

No Laughing Matter?

I don't go for charity marathon telephons or celebrity reality TV in general, but it's Comic Relief time of year again, and I do like Comic Relief. (Comic Relief does Fame Academy is running at present, from last weekend up till the Comic Relief night, a week today.)

I love the fact that comedy so often has a social conscience - indeed, in my opinion the best comedy does. I love the fact that making a difference doesn't have to be done with a stoical straight face. I am deeply moved by the clips of people I "know" from the TV visiting people I will never "meet" - in Africa, and the UK - whose lives have been changed for the better because of this movement: I find the balance of tears and laughter acheived with a wonderful touch (and I recognise that isn't easy to pull off), and I don't believe that it is at all emotionally manipulative. In the work of Comic Relief I see God's kingdom come, even though many of those involved might not recognise that. I'm glad that God's kingdom is bigger than His church. And I'm committed to see that kingdom grow and grow, in all of its life-bringing creativity.

On another track (though some people seem to find it funny...), my parents dropped into Sheffield today en route elsewhere and delivered the new kilt I had specially ordered when we were up in Glasgow at New Year. It might have to get a more regular airing than just black-tie events...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sleeping Beauty

When I got back home from work today, I found Jo and Noah fast asleep on the sitting-room couch. Bless.

Today felt flat, all day long. I felt unable to inspire other people with something I felt inspired by, and that felt like failure. (Of what, though? Did I let God down? No, he loves me for who I am, not what I do.)

But tomorrow is another day, a fresh start, a clean slate. And I get to spend it with Susie and Noah, while Jo has a relaxing break at the spa. I'm looking forward to it! (And my heavenly Father is looking forward to spending it with me, too!)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Prayer and Parable

I had an interesting conversation this afternoon with a vicar visiting Sheffield from Kings Lynn, on prayer and disciplined patterns of prayer. He's been thinking about such things since he visited the Millennium Dome in 2000, and observed how many people visiting the Spirituality Zone were attracted to Eastern religions, specifically because of their sense of discipline in meditation and/or prayer. I lamented the fact that few of the visitors would be aware of the similar prayer disciplines within the Christian tradition, because those traditions were among the many good babies thrown out with the dirty dishwater by successive Protestant reformations as the church first shaped, and then was shaped by, the Modern era of history (shaped both in colluding with and in opposing the spirit of the age). So now we have generations growing up in the West who inherently know there is something good in a disciplined rhythm of prayer, but are disconnected from Christian models - and who rightly recognise that a Christianity devoid of such things doesn't have much spiritual weight to it - and so look elsewhere...

On a similar vein, I'm off to Sweden next week, and one of the things I love about the Lutheran church there is its rich sense of sacrament, symbol, icon, ritual...the things of the church that evangelicals in the UK have tended to discard as (at best) anachronistic - which I guess they are to my parents' generation, but they aren't to mine. The emerging Post-modern cultures inherently operate at these levels, rather than at the 'logical' levels so valued by their elders. And the symbolism of the church is both a potential door, and potentially creates a habitable space beyond that door, for young adults that I find really exciting.

A re-discovered rhythm of prayer throughout the day, and re-discovered sense of rite and ritual, sacrament and symbol, are essential if we are to engage with our nation today and tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Light Fantastic

As I walked home from work today, the light was amazing - a golden glow, all the way from Park Hill Flats, Pitsmoor, the gas tower at Neepsend, the ski village, recycling depot, Parkwood Springs, Shirecliffe Edge. Fantastic!