Love Life Live Lent Wednesday of Week 5: Listen!

If there’s one thing that makes me the envy of my local clergy colleagues it’s that  my parish has a very well supported and well organised good neighbour scheme, meaning that a lot more people get visited and helped than I could possibly visit and help on my own.

A large part of the remit of ‘Friends in Deed’ is listening. Listening to people who are housebound and have stories to tell and nobody else to whom to tell them; listening to people whose burdens in life are more than anyone should have to bear; listening to people whose stories have never been told before, not to anyone.

But tonight all the volunteers came together to listen to each other – we set aside an evening to talk about what we do, and to listen to what we ourselves were saying. We dared to voice which parts of our work are most satisfying, which bits feel draining and which bits we wish we didn’t feel duty-bound to do. And because we were joined by some new volunteers, we were also able to listen to their ideas, and their reflections on what they’d heard.

It was a really good opportunity to ask ourselves some important questions, and to listen to our own answers, and each other’s answers, and to leave some questions unanswered.  It was a chance to grow and evolve, rather than simply perpetuate what we’ve always been.

If we’re never given an opportunity to listen to ourselves, we may never reach the point of learning from our experiences.  Having someone listening to us as a witness, or as a mirror, reflecting back our own words, enables us to hear clearly the thoughts of our hearts; and the way that our articulation of those thoughts gives us more clues as to what’s really going on.  And just sometimes, we might be the only people who give that same opportunity to others.   When we listen, we don’t need to judge, but we do need to give people a chance to hear themselves, and to know that their words, and their thoughts are being witnessed and valued, perhaps for the first time.

So thank you, Friends in Deed, for giving that chance to so many people in my village.  And thank you too for all the people who’ve listened to me over the years, and for the way that that listening has helped me to grow into the person I’ve become. And thank you, too, to everyone who has honoured me by telling me their stories, and trusted me to hear and honour those words.

Love Life Live Lent Thursday of Week Four: relax to some music

This evening it was Ground Floor Group* and while I thought we might think about the Lord’s Prayer (having just done a school RE day based on it), the group had other ideas: ‘We haven’t done today’s action yet!’ And so we spent most of the evening sharing some of our favourite music and even downloaded some.

We hatched plots to start a very occasional informal church orchestra to go with our informal choir, Angel Voices**; we hatched further plots to meet up one evening and sing really nice music and drink wine (or eat chocolate, or both); and while we talked and listened to an astonishing range of music (Johnny Cash to Herbert Howells), we ate quite a lot of fairtrade biscuits and drank a great deal of tea.  Then we said Compline together.

All in all a wonderful evening, and all the better for the fact that largely we were all able to sit and listen respectfully to each other’s musical preferences even if they were very different from our own, and spend time in companionable quiet, too.

So, thank you, Love Life Live Lent, for making sure that we didn’t have a worthy hour reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer but instead spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a half sharing something lovely.  And I do feel more peaceful…

* The Ground Floor Group is a home group which started four years ago as the Foundations Group, as in ‘Christian Foundations’, for those new to the faith or wanting a refresher course on the basics. After two years and showing no signs of fizzling out or drawing to any kind of conclusion, we renamed ourselves the Ground Floor Group, and we’re gradually moving upwards. Next term we will become the Mezzanine Group.  Really. 

**Angel Voices is a genuinely all age group of people who are led by one of the Ground Floor members and her husband and who in turn lead the music at our monthly all age service. The youngest member is 6 and we don’t ask how old our oldest member is. 

Love Life Live Lent Wednesday of Week Four: say hello to your neighbours!

I was told once that as a vicar, if I didn’t have small children, I should get a dog, as I would need an excuse to be walking in the village without looking like I was just wandering around.  Probably good advice, though I’m not sure that I’ll want to replace the children with a dog when they get too old to be useful in casual pastoral ministry…

One of the joys of being a vicar is that I can smile and say hello to people I don’t know without them thinking I’m a nutter – or at least, if they do think I’m a nutter, it’s not because I smiled at them. This even sort of works in London (not that I go there very often, but I have tried it – smiling at people on the tube – and sometimes people even smile back).

One of the challenges of being a vicar is that when I do smile and say hello to people they often want to stop and talk, which is lovely, unless I’m in a hurry to get somewhere – so one allows time for these encounters.

And I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it?  Allowing time for your hello to become more than a hello is part of what makes the hello worth saying in the first place. It makes a walk down the street less predictable, getting anywhere takes longer and we may be drawn into conversations that are difficult or that demand more of us than we expected to give.  But on the other hand, we may make mew friends. make a difference (in a good way!) to someone’s day…

Saying hello may well be only step one but it could well be step one of a much longer, richer and more interesting journey.

Love Life Live Lent Friday of Week Three: do something different

Tomorrow’s action is to do something different by trying to have a screen-free day – which is why I’m writing this now!

Tomorrow is my day off, as it happens. I’m not morally obliged to answer emails, and it should be possible for me genuinely to have a screen-free day – any other day of the week and I’d really really struggle. But from the tweets that have been coming in today in anticipation of this particular challenge, for many people the idea of having a screen free day is something they long to do, but genuinely can’t. If you’re working and your work demands that you spend most of your day looking at a screen, and if most of your human contact comes via electronic means, then this challenge may feel like adding insult to injury.  You’d love to spend a day without being a slave to your laptop or tablet. But you can’t.

But remember, the actual heading for the LLLL action is, ‘Do something different’.  The challenge to do without the computer is an example of what this might mean – and for those of us who don’t absolutely have to engage via technology, but are just a little bit addicted to it, it’s a challenge that is well worth trying, and might well be a hugely life-giving thing to do.

But for those who really are chained to their computer all day, the challenge to do something different remains. What that looks like in real life is worth spending some time thinking about.  Fundamentally, the challenge is to dare to break the habits and patterns that we’ve got stuck in, and that have ended up controlling our lives.  The challenge is to confront those habits and patterns and to ask ourselves whether we have become a slave to them, and if we have, to work out ways of regaining some freedom.

So if you’re stuck with the screen during office hours, what about when you take a break?  Do you have the option to leave your desk and go outside at lunchtime? To go for a walk or take a different route to and from work so you see different people and landscapes?  Eat something different, or wear something colourful that you wouldn’t normally wear, try out a different perfume, or do something different with your hair – anything to stimulate your senses and keep you alive to the world beyond the screen.  So many of us get stuck staring ahead of us at a glowing rectangle, all day, every day, but we are people with bodies, with a sense of taste and touch and smell as well as the sight or hearing we use to engage with people via technological means.  This challenge, to do something different, could be a way of noticing all over again who you are and what matters to you.

And if slavery to the screen isn’t your particular form of slavery, this challenge is still a chance to work out what is.  What habits and ways of being are keeping you captive? And if you forgo them for a day, what new joys and discoveries will rise up to fill the gap?

So many of us get stuck in routines and don’t dare to think about what could be different.  Yes, it’s a risk. If we’ve always done something one way, what happens when we don’t?  Yet it’s essential to being a living being that we change and grow and respond to our environment, learning new things about ourselves and about the world around us all the time. Accept the challenge to do something different and this could just be the first day of the rest of your life.

Love Life Live Lent Thursday of Week three: tidy up!

They say that charity begins at home. But does that also apply to today’s action? I suspect I could fill a bin bag full of rubbish just from all the stuff that’s accumulated on the floor of my study in the last couple of weeks…

Actually, this time of year (and especially a day like today, which in my neck of the woods at least, has been reasonably sunny) is a great time for spring cleaning and tidying up generally.  Sunlight comes through windows and makes you realise (a) how dirty the windows are after a winter’s worth of dust and rain, and (b) how untidy the rest of the house is (if you’re anything like me it is, anyway).

Light shows things up.  It reveals mess.

But is also shows up beauty. And this is also an ideal time of year to appreciate the beauty more, too.  All our snowdrops are out, and the first couple of daffodils are starting to brave the cold, like miniature sunshines.

When the snow disappears, what’s underneath it is revealed – whether that’s spring flowers, or old lager cans, crisp packets and cigarette butts. And once the sun comes out, more and more people venture out not because they have to get from A to B, but because they want to be outside.  And when they do, they see not only the flowers, but the litter, too.

The sunlight and the longer days mean that tidying up our local neighbourhoods is immensely rewarding – the fruits of our labours will be enjoyed by dog walkers, toddlers, postmen, children on the way to school, people waiting at bus stops… all of whom will feel their hearts warmed by the sight of spring flowers without the plastic wrappers and crushed cans next to it.

It’s also true that keeping our environment tidy means that the people around us are more likely to respect it, and to do their part in keeping it tidy, whereas mess tends to perpetuate more mess: when a place is already looking like a tip, there’s little motivation for the next person not to add their rubbish to what’s already there.

On that note, part one of my action today is to clear my study floor, to find homes for the things that I need to keep and to get rid of the things that need to go.  Part two will be to do the same to the small patch of our garden that’s right next to the pavement – there are some beer cans there that need to be introduced to a recycling bin!