Tuesday, October 24, 2017


First written on 24 October on facebook:

It has been wonderful to talk with a friend about the losses of aging (as opposed to old age). As we age, we all suffer neuro degeneration. I am often asked how, as someone who is dyslexic and dyspraxic, I was able to write a PhD thesis. I usually lie, and say it is just an essay you have three years to write. The truth is, my brain was twenty years younger. At 45, I increasingly experience more symptoms of Aspergers (my daugher is an Aspie). This is not because I am becoming more autistic, but because I have become less able to compensate as my brain ages. The effect of neuro degeneration, which everyone experiences, is greater where there are underlying conditions we have been fighting. (I wonder whether this in part accounts for ‘late’ diagnoses of Aspergers, such as that of Chris Packham in his mid-forties.) But it is part of aging for all of us. For me, it is a greater loss than physical fitness, and a genuine grieving. Acceptance and self-compassion are key in this season of life—mindfulness has much to offer here. But this is also a useful insight as one who serves a community of people who are aging, including many middle-aged men. I wonder whether there are others as disoriented by such grief—very real, even if no-one has died—and whether we might go on this journey together?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Great questions to ask local shepherds

Who are you concerned about at the moment, and why?

Is there anything we could do for them or—better still—with them, that would address the issue(s) of concern?

What is going on within the community (the church congregation, or the wider community of the parish) that is having a de-humanising impact?

How are you? No, really: how are you, really? And who is extending the care you need?

Shepherds at the local level

Shepherds, or pastors, care deeply about people’s well-being.

I am not a pastor. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about people, or that I don’t need to do so. As a Christian, I am seeking to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, and Jesus perfectly expressed the human vocations being apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. As one called to serve the church with over-sight, I have learned pastoral skills. But, being just one part of the Body of Christ, my ‘specialism’ is for something else. My love for my neighbour is expressed more naturally through the prophetic question of What is the potential deep within this person waiting to be discovered, and drawn out, and refined? (like a precious stone from the earth) than through the pastoral questions, How can this person’s needs be met? and, Of what hurts do they need healed? The call of the church upon my life (to be a deacon, and priest) requires of me that I seek to guarantee that apostolic intelligence, and prophetic intelligence (the call of Jesus on my life), and evangelistic intelligence, and shepherding or pastoral intelligence (the questions asked immediately above), and teaching intelligence are all contributing to the holistic life and work of the church—and beyond.

When I think of shepherds at the local level, or within the local community, I might think of Elaine. Elaine owned a bistro in the village we lived in before we moved to Sunderland. She had a thankful awareness of God’s benevolence, but, as far as I am aware, was not a church-goer.

The village, on the edge of a town and joined to it by suburban sprawl, had kept its identity through the commitment of its independent shop-owners to a high standard of customer care. Not only did the villagers shop locally, but people travelled from the wider suburban area to the village for its shops and cafes. But Elaine went beyond good customer care: she was a pastor to her regulars, and to her staff. They were like family to her. She would call a taxi to get elderly gentlemen home after their breakfast, and assist them out to the car. When one regular died, they closed the bistro for a couple of hours so that they could attend the funeral.

We ate lunch there on a Friday reasonably often. At some point, Elaine would come out from the kitchen to enquire how we were; perhaps also sharing her concern for other customers or mutual acquaintances—though never in a gossipy way: some of her customers were minor celebrities who knew they could rely on her discretion to provide a safe place to eat in private. She was, quite simply, made to care; and she had created an environment in which to do just that, holistically, and well.

Able to do so, she was a great asset to the community.


Rain-dark morning.
The melancholy reflection of street lamps
on slick wet pavement.
Light, weighed down; too world-weary to dance,
to sing.
Nonetheless, light—
enough for now.