Tearfund have opened a prayer room to mark ‘Global Poverty Prayer week’ in conjunction with 24/7 prayer Ireland, at the Irish Methodist Department of Youth and Children’s work at Aldersgate House, University Road, Belfast. You can get more information at www.tearfund.org sign up online by following the links at www.irishmethodist.org or you can just drop in, the room is open 24hrs a day.
I spent some time there yesterday and it was a fantastic, powerful, challenging experience. At a time when, in the west, we are utterly consumed with the doom of ‘global’ recession (it seems to me that for ‘global’ read ‘western’ – I mean many people in poorer parts of the world aren’t in any different a set of circumstances than they were a year a go, and aren’t so effected by the rise and fall of big banks, stock markets and house prices), this was a timely reminder for me of much the much greater, deeper needs in this world…. so many people without access to clean water, proper toilets… the lack of access for many people, especially innocent children, to HIV treatments… and the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest.
As a Christian I need to be more in touch with God’s heart for the poor and concern for the world. I am not simply talking about ‘having sympathy’ or being ‘emotionally moved’, it’s about interceding in prayer and action… doing what I can, small as it may seem, to help. The prayer room challenged me to pray of course but the great thing about such 24/7 prayer rooms it that they are outward focused, not just connecting me with God, but giving practical suggestions about some of the things we can all do to make a difference.
Last year I tried hard to take part in the Carbon Fast… trying to switch electronic items off when not using them, switching to energy efficient light bulbs… since today marks the beginning of Lent.. I am going to see if there are other ways in which I can do something to cut down on my waste of the precious resources God has given us.
Finished reading this great book last week. Published in 2004 this is a fascinating, philosophical, and often comical, look at humanity’s concern with personal status. De Botton argues that although anxiety about our status can often spur us on to better things, it also has the capacity to cause us tremendous sorrow. He argues that the best way to overcome the problems caused by status anxiety is to understand it and speak of it. He outlines five causes of anxiety… lovelessness, snobbery, expectation, meritocracy and dependence; Then he reflects on five ways in which we, historically, have tried to overcome this anxiety, philosophy, art, politics, christianity and bohemia. Lots of very interesting stuff in this read, very enjoyable… De Botton certainly makes some interesting observations and suggestions, and indeed his book feels strangely ‘prophetic’ as it speaks of the global economic situation and what might happen if it all ever fell apart!! Even though De Botton does not write from a Christian perspective, I as a follower of Jesus, felt challenged about what I seek in life and who I seek it from. Well worth the read!
After a busy January it has been a quiet couple of weeks. I’ve done a fair bit of walking and some reading. Managed to grab a few geocaches whilst in Sligo for the Re:Call retreat… including a drive through the sea on the causeway over to Coney Island. Really glad to find this one as you have to get the tidal timings right! I also had a good walk around Cairn wood in the Craigantlet hills and this week a day around Carrickfergus when I made 16 cache finds in a day… including a great wade through snow at the Woodburn Reservoirs.
On the reading front, I am nearly finished Alain De Botton’s ‘Status Anxiety’ – fabulous read, and I’ve started ‘Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most.’ by Bruce Patton et al. I will offer some thoughts on those in due course.
Busy times lie ahead with a week London at the end of February, including a University Chaplain’s study day, I am going to ski in Bulgaria for 5 days (never done that before… am I mad?) and a few days in Manchester in the middle of March for a meeting of the ‘Music resource group’ of the British Methodist Church which is looking at a replacement for the ‘Hymns and Psalms’ hymn book.
It’s scary how time flies so quickly. Another 6 weeks and Sabbatical will be over, then we will be into Easter and it will be only 3 months until we move house and start work in Queens!
Here are a few pics of/from the lovely Coney Island just off the coast from Sligo:
One more wee story from our trip to Tenerife, that now seems such a long time ago, especially given how freezing it has been here over the last couple of weeks. Our kids love music and dancing (anyone who has seen me dance will know that they have not inherited this trait from me!), so you can imagine the excitement when we discovered that the mini disco would be happening in the downstairs bar in the hotel each evening. Daniel, aged 2, was particularly taken with this activity. One evening when Hannah had decided that she had had enough, Daniel found a new partner to dance with, a tall 3 year old whom we will call ‘Jill’!
Jill was very keen to dance with Daniel and at first Daniel was very keen to dance with Jill. However, as anyone who has ever been in the proximity of a 2 year old knows, it is hard to make them do what you want! Jill was not best pleased when Daniel decided to sit down for a rest for moment and dragged him to his feet. Daniel duly complied and for the parents and grandparents sitting watching this was a great laugh. A few moments later the same thing happened… everyone still laughing… nothing to get overly concerned about. The third time Dan sat down however things turned nasty because this time Dan was not for getting up again, so Jill began grabbing at him and nipping his arms etc…
Now, as a parent, at this moment you are presented with a bit of a dilemma.. you of course want to rescue your child, equally you don’t want to create a whole big fuss. Jill’s parents had noted the deteriorating situation and so we were all intervening at the same time. Daniel, in response to the nipping had made a run for to the other side of the stage and seemed ok, Jill was being restrained by her parents who were trying to apologize to me. Suddenly however Jill, who realized she was now in trouble, and seeing the opportunity for one last go, made a break for it and gave Daniel, who made the mistake of coming closer again, one almighty shove which sent him flying across the stage in a heap. Poor Daniel was by now in tears and in my arms and very frightened.. ‘it’s ok son’, I said, trying to comfort him, ‘that’s girls for you..’. Jill was also crying now, for very different reasons, and I could see that her parents were completely affronted and they apologized profusely!
As the rest of week went on everytime we met this family, Dan hid, and actually I think Jill’s parents would have liked to hide as well… they just kept on apologizing. As Ruth and I chatted we were relieved that it wasn’t something one of our children did!
For mini disco lovers everywhere here is a wee taster of a good night at the Bitacora.. (there is no recording of the event recounted above.. it would be x-rated!).
The dust is settling on the Methodist ministers retreat in Sligo last week. I was involved in the organising group for the conference and I have to admit that I get a buzz from being involved in organising such events / conferences / retreats /festivals… it’s something that I know I can do… logistics tend to come naturally to me! However through all the conference/festival experiences I have been involved in the last 15 years… Summer Madness, Re:Call, New Wine etc… I have learnt that you’ll never keep everyone happy, and you will never organise the perfect conference… whether it is speakers, music, worship styles, venue surroundings, air conditioning, bookstalls, screen positioning, food…. or anything else… there’s always something that someone won’t like.
This was the third Re:call conference that the Methodist Church in Ireland has held… the first one in 2004, the last one in 2007… for me it is a great opportunity for the ministers of the church to get together in a setting that is not some kind of official / business meeting. The space to relax and spend time together, I believe, allows God to do something amongst us that we are not even aware of. it reminds us of that most important reality… we are not in this alone. It’s a chance to catch up, to share stories – good times and difficult times, as well as to pray, praise, reflect and learn together.
I always try and take one ‘key challenge’ away with me from such events cos one is usually about all I can handle. I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear Graham Cray speak on the changing context for the church’s mission, the need to make discipleship a priority, and learning how to discern the way forward. Graham reinforced something that I have heard before and that I have even been heard to witter on about once or twice!
There is no discipleship without mission and no genuine mission without discipleship!
It has often been said to me by well meaning church members in all sorts of places that ‘we can’t go and engage with the community around us until we get ourselves sorted out’ – the problem is of course, that within the church we will never ever get all our problems, challenges, disputes sorted out…as Graham Cray put it.. ‘you can’t sort people out to be disciples and then go for mission, they will only start becoming disciples when they go on mission.’ God points us out of our church buildings, out of our spiritual comfort zones, beyond our conferences, retreats and festivals (good or bad as they can be) to a world that Jesus came to reach!
I didn’t enjoy every aspect of the Re:Call retreat, it wasn’t the perfect event but there was definitely a lot more good than bad! With the benefit of hindsight there are things that I would change… but the important thing is that such retreats give God the opportunity to speak to us if we are willing to listen, to refresh and to challenge us again, even with one key idea, and that is enough for me.