Remembering to Breathe

Its a module at Bible College, how to tell someone that they need to breathe

Said one of my close friends over the last 2 years. In the midst of the chaos, remembering to breathe, when there’s emotional trauma around, when there’s confusing relationships to react to, when there’s employment situation to work out, when there another house to live in or not so, when you’re unsure where you’ll be eating your next meal, let alone if..

Remembering …..to……. breathe….

I breathe a lot at the moment, the days of forgetting to breathe seem a long time ago. But in the midst, breathing is, well, good, isn’t it?

letting it out…… breathing it in

taking the time….. slow down…

Yesterday I had another, and I mean another, conversation of hopefulness, of shared life, with someone whom I’ve had more of a professional relationship with before, whom I had helped (or tried to) whilst hiding, or trying to hide, much of the chaos within. Yesterday, because it was just a beautiful conversation, I let some of it out, a conversation about Youthwork and management, then lasted nearly 4 hours…

This morning the person I was chatting with shared with me this song/poem that she had written, and has given me permission to share it with you.

Before I do, I would like to share also an extract from Matt Haigs book, which I read a few days ago too.

You’re ok, remember to breathe….

We need to carve out a place in time for ourselves, whether it is via books or meditation or appreciating the view out of the window (for me this was long walks, and is now, just everything) A place where we are not craving or yearning, or working, or worrying or over thinking. A place where we might not even be hoping. A place where we are set to neutral. Where we can just breathe, just be, just bathe in the simple contentment of being, and not crave anything except what we have already; life itself’

(Matt Haig, Notes on a nervous planet, page 260)

My Friends song:

 

When you feel that Hope has left you
And you cannot carry on
Remember what you’ve been through
Remember where you’re from
It’s strength that got you through it
You’re stronger than you know
Hope is but a breath away
Breathe in and let it go

Oh oh oh oh oh
Bre-eathe life
Bre-ee-eathe life
Breath speaks to the darkness
Bre-eathe life
Breathe in,
Breathe hope
Breathe life

‘here I go again, I’m down on my knees and I’m still free falling.
A bird with broken wings cannot fly’

At times one step is too much to take-
it seems like journey’s end
Hope has slipped away again
The world is closing in
Don’t think about tomorrow
Don’t think about today
Think about this moment
Listen to the breath
As you
Bre-eathe life
Bre- ee-eathe life
Breath speaks to the darkness
Bre-eathe life
Breathe in
Breathe hope
Breathe life

Theres nothing lost by slowing down, breathing, taking your time. Taking control of you and your time starts by breathing in and out and listening to your heart, listening to the very soul you have, breathing in, breathing out.

‘I stare at the sea…… and ……it…..calms….me’ (Matt Haig)

 

What if we treated young people (in the church) as Human?

What is it about young people that seems to be that they’re treated as something other that human?

And, before someone in the church responds to say that they have a healthy and positive respect for young people, it’s the church that whilst it generates and maintains a good number of youth work and ministry provision, might also be in danger of regarding young people as subhuman.

My recent case in point is Neil O Boyles book ‘Under construction’ which – if you read my most recent two pieces, details and shows examples of where young people are patronised (told that sex is for having babies), given simple answers to complex problems (you’ll not become a child killer, if you don’t watch video games) , restricting their view of sin, shame and maintaining a cultural view that the individual is responsible (whatever the horror situation is dealt with) and infantalising young people (something is interactive because it has ‘puzzles’ and join the dots). On one hand I had many issues with that book. Not least its view of God. But its view of young people is equally as odd.

And if this is endemic – what does this say about how the evangelical church – and the wider church view young people?

Its as if young people are less than human people…- a few examples:

Talking of Sub-human – There can also be a view that young people (for arguments sake the over 11s- the post primary schools) are somehow a weird, alien, arrived from space species – this was picked up by Christian Smith in 2003 (p259), when he urged US churches to not hold this view, seeing that those who are over 11 upwards are closer to the adults who read or write blogs like this, or run churches or are congregants, than the children in Sunday school and messy church that seem to be viewed as treasures and darlings. All of a sudden theres a collective defeatist disempowering thst ‘we don’t know what to do with them’ yet, ‘them’ has been known for 6 years already. The challenges is the attitude fuels the approach, and approaches are often lacking. Of course changed young people aren’t going to like what they had aged 9, but they’re not necessarily going to like high energy games or simple bible stories or moral talks either. But they’re not aliens, just changed…

What they might like – is being treated as a human – not an alien

Or maybe even – not a project, or a puzzle to solve and then boast about.

These pages, articles and theres blogs everywhere on how to reach, teach, keep, pass on the faith to young people. Young people (once the church has stopped putting its foot in its mouth about sex) is also on high alert for the quick win, model, method, way for arresting the decline of young people in churches, and now that project ‘employ a youthworker’ has changed to ‘employ a resource church faith enabler for millenials’ or ‘an outreach worker for the 25-40’s’ its as if the church, worry stats included this week, has given up on trying.

However. Whilst young people (the 11-25’s) in this case are mentioned. What about the over 65s or under 11;s – are churches bursting their seams with them? No- thought not…

Then, as Andrew Root suggests, the desire for young people in the church is not for their sake anyway, its so that everyone else can feel not only that the institution may survive, its also that Youthfulness=Authenticity in todays culture – so increasing young people can help those involved in it to feel as though its up to date, its real. Somehow. (Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a secular Age, 2016) Young people then, aren’t treated as Human, but as signifiers of institutional relevance.

In few parts of these discussions – of church growth and young people , does the subject of actual young people, actual processes, mission, values, and human dignity appear. Its high reaction, responsive, soul searching and trying to do better. But what if the following…

Instead of trying to project, solve, judge , patronise or reach young people (no one talks about reaching the over 75’s…)

Because, as my most read piece, since it was published, suggests, young people are treated as human, when it has been established what role they have in it – just like everyone else – or more so.

Why not instead work on thinking about young people as humans? Fully human, fully who they are in the sight of God at this present moment- not in need of change, but as they are…

Think of them as not them – but us

Think of them as spiritual – and actually religious

Think of them as gifted – and our task to harness those

Think of them as having passions – and adding resource to enable these passions to be realised

Think of them not as without, not as deficit – but with character, with determionation – who already in the midst show a kind of resilience, resourcefulness that would put adults to shame

Think of them as not ‘the youth’ with a ‘youth’ room – but part of the church

Think of them not as tokens to be paraded, a group to have sympathy for – but like every other human – with a contribution to make within the places where contributions are made by everyone. Think of them as not done to, but those who create for themselves, and to be heard

Matt Haigs Book ‘Notes on a nervous planet’ says the following – in relation to all of us, and the state were in on the planet we currently occupy, what if we reminded young people, and we remind ourselves, of the collective humanity that we are all part.

‘Remind ourselves that we are an animal united as a species existing in this tender blue speck in space, the only planet we know containing life. Bathe in the sentimental miracle of that, define ourselves by the freakish luck of being alive, and being aware of being so. That we are all here on the the most beautiful planet we’ll ever know’

What if there was something about the very young people in your church and parish whose humanity imight be revealed to you? What if their place on this glorious planet was no more or less significant than yours – what if young people are aware of participating in something much bigger than they know yet – and they dont have those dreams and stories and actions quashed by the very adults who say that are working with them, because there’s a drive to be pure from sin all the time.

Maybe the first thing is not to talk about young people as if they’re not in the room. But they are. Not in the room about them…. and where their involvement is too purchase attendance tickets to the thing we think they might like. Hmm, some humanity there.

What if there isn’t a new model, method or idea – but what if theres just something to be said for listening, inviting, sharing space and enabling young people to belong, to do, and to be challenged, and have opportunities to flourish and make decisions.

Maybe if churches thought about young people as the humans that the other humans would like to be treated – then this might be a good first step.

Do I really need to make a theological case for treating young people as Humans, from the biblical material? No thought not, most of you youth workers recite it all anyway, and adults hear the same messages…; Created and made in the Image of God, Loved, gifted, persons who can be in conversation with God, in community, capable of feeling, emotion, intellect, generosity.. and participants in something God is calling them to – and that needs a conversation, respect and time – not a programme, a method or a model.

What if we began to reflect seriously about the humanity of ourselves, and the young people who are part of our communities, parishes, churches and groups?

And took what we might find seriously..?

Bryan suggests that ‘We understand who we are primarily through reflecting on the story of our lives. Every day we share stories about what happened to us and what we are anticipating or hoping for in our future, but each of these narratives is embedded in the broader stories of our family, the social groups we belong to , society, and beyond that to the unfolding history of the world’ (Bryan, 2016)

Locating and regarding young people as Human, and developing their true humanity is what we are to do – again, and as Bryan writes, and I conclude, with this to reflect on

‘An essential part of who we are is rooted in human beings as co-creators and participants in the unending story of God. It is the living story of God which defines who we are and who we become’  (Bryan 2016, p5)

How might young people be part of the stories of the church as they are?

How might church be part of the stories of the lives of young people?

How might church encourage the stories of young people as they participate in Gods call in the world?

And not just that, creative, quiet, loud, questioning, faithful, determined, thoughtful, considerate, loyal, you know – just like the rest of us…

 

References:

Christian Smith, 2003, Faith Formation in a Secular Age

Bryan, Jocelyn, 2016, Human Being

O Boyle, Neil, 2019 Under construction

Root, Andrew, 2016, Faith formation in a Secular Age

Haig, Matt, 2018, Notes on a nervous planet

 

 

Responding to ‘Under-construction’ – An apologetic Clergy

For those who haven’t been following, Earlier this week, Janet, mum of Harry, wrote to her local vicar about the effects on Harry of a recent book, Under construction, by Neil O Boyle, that was being read. A few days later, after seeking a copy of the book and reading it, the local vicar in our mini-series, replies: 

 

Dear Janet,

I really appreciated receiving your letter about how your son Harry has enjoyed the book ‘Under construction’ by Neil O Boyle. As a result of your recommendation I bought a copy, well, actually, I didn’t, I was talking to our youth leaders about it, and one of them got a free copy at a national youth conference a few months back, and like any good youthworker they hadn’t read it, and were only happy to lend it to me. So in a quiet moment between Christmas and new year, I gave it a read, from cover to cover.

Im afraid I cant share your sense of positivity about it, even though I have a feeling you were being slightly sardonic in your letter. I cant even begin to answer some of the questions you asked, because, even with an MA in Theology, I dont understand what the book is going on about half the time. I can see where you found the drawings and notes sections helpful in delving into the inner most mind thoughts of Harry (and his technical drawing skills), but a read of the text in detail caused me some consternation. I wont be giving this book back to the youth leaders, I really dont want anyone else to read it.

I have summarised my concerns, having read the whole book as follows:

The least of my concerns is that I don’t know who it is written for. It recounts sexual assault, rape, and teen suicide, and accompanies it with join the dots activities- is it even for boys like Harry? On one hand it describes abortions in detail , later in the bedroom chapter the author helpfully describes sex as being for ‘making babies’ – the kind of insight needed for 8 year olds. And the dot to dots? 

Regarding Biblical or theological reflection – the bible itself is rewritten to suit the metaphor (not just re interpreted). God is a mysterious wandering presence who moves around a metaphorical house, existing in the study, and without asking for permission laying down new floorboards, and then being left in the coridoor – at times it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. God isn’t like that, God is love, and to be followed , not to worry about if he’s stalking you under the floorboards or checking out what seedy activities you’ve been doing, and he really isn’t into dry rot. 

All the stories about sex are told are about shame and are from a girls point of view, boys don’t have shameful sex in this book, and there is no referenced to counselling or therapy and emotions that may be triggered in the reader.  Im so glad Harry didn’t react here too much, but imagine if he’d experienced abuse himself? 

If young people take the book seriously and write down their responses, this book becomes a diary of shame, judgement and guilt – and really can’t be passed around the youth group. Or left on a bookshelf in the family home. Not once does it ask a young person to write down the gifts or abilities they think God has given them. 

There are no reference to any research into the effects of social media, mental health (social media is blamed) on one occasion it takes the complex case of the Bulgar Killers and uses it to make a simple case that video games are harmful and the images stay in the mind forever, guilting video game use to child killing.   This is what happened to Harry isn’t it? He felt guilty about giving up paying grand theft auto – not because he was making a positive choice – but felt shame and guilt. 

So Janet, Im really thankful that you’ve shared with me about this book, I have some strong concerns, and quite how it can be recommended for young people, in 21st Century Britain, and by a youth organisation that is seeking to be relevant, that is trying to encourage young people into faith, beats me. Its a faith I really dont recognise in this book, maybe its American evangelicalism, that’s what it feels like, and reminds me of Moral Therapeutic Deism which we talked about when I was at college, though this feels a weird variation, that maintains the moral, but is barely therapeutic, more traumatic, and is more DIY SOS than Deism.

Im glad that you didn’t send your letter to our new curate, she’s female. I think she’s likely to explode reading this book, and she’s barely a feminist. But as a male im deeply troubled, and you know how calm I have to be in difficult situations.

You know that I am not responsible for the book, but as someone who is obviously involved in the church and the christian faith, I feel I need to apologise for the damage its already caused and even what it might do. Directly to Harry, I apologise for the view this book it portrays of guilt and shame, Harry seems already full of shame about his body, there body a good loving God gave him, he shouldn’t feel this way. I apologise for how harry might view women, in this book they are bullied or shamed for sex acts, there are far more beautiful and purposeful and contributors in society than this, and any damage to the relationship with his sister.  I apologise for the way Harry might view God, the view of a loving Father, creator, generous and love is very difficult to find, and so Im sorry. Im sorry that Harry might feel that he has to be perfect to have faith, to have sorted himself out before he can contribute in the church: Janet – your Harry is an amazing boy, loved and precious and the youth leaders adore him, we would love him to use all his amazing gifts, personality and creativity – and he doesnt need to undergo misguided deep introspection before this can happen – we love Harry for who he is.

My advice for Harry – is to read the actual bible- and fall in love with the beautiful man that is Jesus. Look at his words, his actions, and find him wondrous, mysterious and dynamic – and see how he healed the hurting and involved women, and then loved so much, and saw the world with compassion – that’s the God of the bible, and if Harry follows this example and seeks goodness, peace and love – then you will end up being so proud of your son even more. Thats the God I try and preach of, and the one that will truly transform history. Once Harry realises he is part of this great big adventure and wonder, to heal, minister and be part of a glorious kingdom of love, peace and hope – then im sure this will be transformative.

And, if Harry want to read a book about growing up, then might I suggest ‘The Man You’re meant to be, by Martin Saunders‘ – its not perfect, but, it would treat Harry like a grown up, and written like a conversation with a slightly wise friend in a cafe. Theres no shame attached here, but a self effacing and humorous look at growing up, and from a man poses the difficult questions about objectifying women, rather than shaming them for the sex acts that abusive men have performed on them.

So, Janet, thank you, I hope this response has been helpful to you, I strongly recommend you think twice about Harry reading the book all the way through, because even on the last page there’s a suggestion to let Jesus have an ‘all access pass to Harrys life’ as if Jesus is a monthly vue cinema ticket. Please gently ask Harry to stop reading it, and if he wants to talk about it, id be happy too.

Yours in love,

Reverend Smith 

What if parents actually read the books Christian youth ministry encouraged young people to read?

I thought I’d imagine a parent writing a letter to the local vicar about the newly published book ‘Under Construction’ (2019) by Neil O Boyle, national director YFC, its a brand new book, and a number of young people might be about to read it.

Dear Reverend/Pastor,

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, you may not know me, but I am the parent of Harry, who goes to the youth group in your church hall every Friday night. Tell you the truth Harry loves it, and as a parent its great that he gets the chance to meet up with other kids his age, and not the same ones he goes to school with, I think he goes because he fancies one of the girls but dont tell him I told you. Anyway, the church thing is new to us all as a family, I guess we’re ok about it, were not religious at all, but sympathetic to it, it’ll help Harry growing up im sure.

Actually Reverend, there was something more I wanted to thank you for. I dont know whether you realised it, but Harry went with the youth group to a camp in the summer with the other kids in the youth group, he had a great time, there was a band on and he loved the music, said it was nothing like church (hope you dont mind me saying) and there were other adults there who were being cool and friendly, and Harry was impressed. So, thank you for giving him that opportunity. Theres another thing too, whilst Harry was there there was someone who gave him a free book and said it was about developing a deeper relationship with Jesus. Now as you might imagine, Harry spends most of his time on a video games, and even though he showed me at the time, a few weeks ago, I was sure the book would stay on the bookshelf.

To my surprise, and a bit like the Bible one of your volunteers gave him a year or so ago, Harry tells me how much he is enjoying the book, if you want to give your children a copy its called ‘Under construction’ by Neil O Boyle, as a parent I wholly recommend it. The change in Harry since he has been reading the book has been amazing, he used to not have any decent conversation over the dinner table about things, just shove his food down, and be sullen, but not any more, he’s offering opinion on things like abortion, sexual assault, child killing, bullying and asking us over the dinner table about how good our prayer life is, also about watching too many video games, saying that these things are wholly shameful and God wouldn’t want people to do these things.

To my surprise he’s asked me to give his copy of Grand Theft Auto to the charity shop, when I asked why, he told me that if he played it too much he might end up killing a child on a railway line. As a parent I am just so proud that he is making these decisions based upon such diligent thinking and consideration of the facts of such high profile cases in British crime history. If this is what this book has been able to do for Harry, then I am just so pleased.

I must tell you this, The other day Harry and his older sister Matilda were having an argument at the dinner table, Matilda currently has a boyfriend and they’ve been together 2 years, and Harry quite abruptly asked her whether she had had sex with him (the book told him that sex was for having babies) and whether she was going to save having sex for her future spouse, because that’s the most important relationship. Now, Im sure Harry didn’t mean to say it in such a judgemental manner, but Matilda reacted bad to this. As a parent we tried to love both of our children, and so we’re thankful that Harry has helped us out by saying this, yes he may have destroyed any relationship he has with his sister, but as a mum I couldn’t be more proud that he’s learning a new perspective and without any critical thinking using it to help his sister be shameful about her sex life, saves her father trying to say it.

So Reverend, I was intrigued, what was this book all about? Forgive me ( are you the confession ones?) , but I kind of had to know what this genius book was all about, so one day when Harry was at school, I thought I would go and have a read, after all its just a book not a diary isn’t it.

Well what a surprise I got.

You see, not only is it a book, but it has exercises and activities in it, and Harry had filled some of them in. I thought, should I look.. but, a book for teenagers and about christianity what is it going to have in it, draw a picture of Jesus or some kind of bible story quiz, but no Reverend, not at all.

This is why you need to get copies of this book to your children Reverend.

I know I shouldn’t have done it, but there were reams of notes written, as Harry, usually not that diligent in school according to Parents evenings, had completed the activities. I bet you want to know what they were. Ill try and tell you, because what I discovered shocked me at first, but then I realised that all the information would be great to use as bribery against Harry if I needed it, you know as they say, knowledge is power.

I just started with the activities and where Harry had written, at 13 he’s already realised that he needs to make big changes in his life, he’s drawn what the foundations of his life are, he has a series of dots to draw the nature of waves in his life (any ideas what the waves of your life are Reverend?) , and on page 38 described the things that make him panic, now, Harry has always been pretty chilled and nothing phases him, but like a good boy, he managed to write a few things, Donald Trump and Climate change, they are what makes him panic, and on page 62 he’s asked the same thing again, there seemed a lot on this.

On page 102 Harry was asked to write down the principles that guide his life, now I dont know about you Reverend, but I wasn’t surprised Harry left this blank to be honest, though he had a go at it.

Harry made a good job of drawing something that symbolises his exercise (a football, what else) , and then Harry described his prayer life – do you have any idea there Reverend, that my 13 year old has been asked to describe his prayer life, he said it was ‘fine, but not as good as the leaders he met at camp’.

I was so thankful too, that on page 119 and 120, I was able to read about the internal labels of shame, rejection, guilt and other that Harry says have carried around with him, all his life. I thought I knew everything about my boy, but when I discovered how he’s felt guilty for the death of our family pet dog, and rejected because he thinks his sister gets more attention, and shame because he masturbates and there’s been conversations about girls, underwear and porn at school, but at least now I know some of the things he is going through. And Im going to tell his dad later too. If you want to find out the inner shame of your kids, then this book is amazing.

You’re going to think this book is amazing aren’t you, well sadly reverend, I think there are some not so good points. I think its great that there’s just so many opportunities for Harry to write down all the areas in his precocious little 13 year old life where he feels he is a failure, feels guilty, feels like he needs to change, there’s even a section where he is made to feel so bad about one of the things, its likened to a weed, on page 135. Harry said his weed was ‘masturbating’ and he didn’t feel it would ever go away or be removed, it looked as though there’d been tear stains on the page. Well as a parent, if Harry feels so shameful about his body now, then its unlikely he’ll end up doing anything like his sister has. He’ll probably never get married or be able to talk about sex with anyone, and as a parent, that’s far easier to cope with.

Reverend, there is a bit on page 80 that might shock you if you gave it a read, no its not the stories of sexual assault, rape and abortions, no, they’re all told as if its the woman fault, and in this PC culture, its refreshing to have some traditional women shaming attitudes, men cant be at fault for their penis at all, and im glad now that Harry can grow up thinking that he doesn’t need to take responsibility for what he does with his penis, a relief, given that now that he’s so embarrassed by what it does.

No, the bit you have to watch out for, is a little section where Harry had the chance to rate how good Dave and I have been at being his parents. And the little shit, sorry, darling Harry, gave us a grade of only 7 out of 10, and for some reason, and I looked in the text, an anticipated grade of 8? what’s that about then – what’s Harry expecting? an Xbox for christmas, is that what he’s anticipating, well not now…

When I read the chapter it was talking about abuse in the family, and men and women having sex to have families, I thought that was a bit weird, I mean Harry is 13 not 8. He was told that some couples its painful to not have children and God wants people to be together to have children. Well that’s a bit awkward for Harry as his Grandad recently remarried, if he has kids at the age of 75 there’ll be a shock. In the book I read that following Gods instructions about what to do when there’s abuse in the family or a parent leaves us. Im just so glad Reverend that in the Bible there are instructions for Harry when this happens, can you tell me which book in the bible is specifically for 13year old boys and what to do if a parent leaves, im so thankful the bible is so specific and helpful.

So, yeah, keep a watch out for the family pages, you might get a shock, especially if you’re expecting a high mark, this book doesnt have much positivity in it, so be ready for a low score.

Before I go, I am going to need to ask you for some help Reverend, as I said in the beginning, I haven’t ever been to church, but I would love to be able to discuss some of the questions that Harry is about to read and know what is going on so I can at least help him. So would you mind getting back to me, I note that you have an MA in theology, and this book is being for 13 year olds, so I guess these are standard questions. So could you give me a few hints on how I might answer these questions please?

  1. What its the Hallway of my life? – Because I am asked whether Ive left Jesus there
  2. What is the MY version of the Bible, and can I get a copy of it, I used to have a bible with weird drawings in it, think it was the good news, but what’s the MY version?
  3. What might the dry rot in the walls of my life be, and Reverend, these affect how I view my life – so as a Parent Id like to know- and Jesus exposes dry rot, so can you tell me what’s going on there please?
  4. This one is in the book, Can you understand this reverend? when the storms hit your metaphorical house (your life) does the roof leak and cause further damage by the manner in which you panic, react or stress, or is the roof watertight because you find yourself able to draw close to God, whether you sense him or not and find his peace? Reverend can you explain this one please?
  5. Do people who wear provocative clothes have no self esteem Reverend? (Thats what page 75 says)
  6. Reverend, does your life have a dining room and has Jesus walked round in it?
  7. Whats your prayer life out of 10 Reverend? – just so I can help Harry know what the vicars score is and compare, thank you.
  8. Reverend, how might I respond to the question whether I have an undeniable weed growing in my life?
  9. Why is this book all about bad things, shameful things, about introspection for 13year olds – yet nothing about God being about love – like I heard at Harry and Meghans wedding? Its almost a completely different faith to that one?
  10. Lastly – Reverend – I notice there’s a whole load of assumptions and claims made in the book- about girls having abortions, about video games and that they lead to being a child murderor – is this kind of amateur reading of society to make young people feel shamed what I might expect more of in Harrys life? If so, ill keep the real study in our house out of bounds, I wouldn’t want him to actually think critically about these things or discover research, like my own psychology degree papers to challenge it.

So, thank you Reverend, its been a long letter I realise, and you dont hear from parents very often I guess, if you could help me out with these questions I would be grateful, this whole house thing seems a bit weird but if thats the basics in christianity for 13year old then I really am going to have to pick it up quick. Oh and the sex before marriage thing, try not to tell Harry that his older sisters date of birth was only 2 months after our wedding date, keep that a secret, otherwise my score will probably go down to 3.

Thank you again, as I said Harry loves the youth group. And this book is going to really help me to discover all his hidden secrets and fears, its like a dirty diary full of sex and shame, just let me know if he talks to you about it, I can even give you a heads up.

Your Parishioner

Joanne, Harrys Mum.

PS, there’s some resources for the youth group available, I think you should get the youth group to do them. They’ll be a nervous shame-filled wreck of a group, and dead easy to parent.

Oh, and reverend, I thought id copy a few pages for you, just so that you can see for yourself how good this book is.

(after contemplating these words the Reverends response is here  )

 

2019; this was my year….

I write this on New Years eve, having just read a facebook memory from last year, which read:

There are many people who know 2019 is going to be tough, they’re waiting for an operation, having treatment, they’re waiting for a DWP assessment, or are homeless, their job is ending or their relationships are tricky. A new year might bring fear and not hope. So as the calendar changes, the new year is nearer to the thing, and Happy new year feels hollow, as that person might be hiding alot just to pretend or go along with everyone else. Please do know if this is you, you are not going through what ever it is alone, that there is hope beyond the difficulty. So, maybe we need to do ‘real’ new year, and not just do Happy new year for 2019.

Of course, the perceptive amongst you will know that this was me.

My Last piece, gives some of the detail of the year I had, and you can read this here.  So I won’t be going through the details again, but I want to look back at some of the learning, and thankfulness and be grateful for the gifts I have received this year, for I look back with pride and gratefulness.

So

2019 was the year I discovered what friendship looked like. My God, I am so grateful for the heroic, wonderful friends, their grace, energy, patience, knowledge, wisdom, and carrying me, but also carrying me in a way that enabled me to realise that I had agency. I love you. you know who you all are. You are many.

2019 was the year I fell in love with music, from pet shop boys, meat loaf, Steve Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Ed Sheeran, Jazz, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, I have sang and danced and cried. I have also developed my guitar playing a lot, and I love it.

2019 was the year I started to live alone, my own flat, my own house, and its a place of calm, peace, a place to read, to chill and its been a joy to share this space with others, the loving friends, to cook for them, and even give them space to have retreats of their own.

2019 was the  year I faced fears, faced emotional challenges, faced my past, faced the abyss, faced a number of things head on. It wasn’t pleasant, at all. Though the circumstances I forced to (marriage separation 18 months ago), I put the whole thing in the mix. Im grateful for professional counselling and the deep reflective friends.

2019 was the year Im grateful for the ongoing self awareness, books I was encouraged (forced??) to read, counselling I did, and finding myself, valuing myself through the year, valuing the bits of me I had tried to hide ( like introversion, or sensitivity) and being proud of them. 2019 was the year for becoming a new better me.

2019 was the year I had a better relationship with food, living in other peoples houses meant no free access to a fridge, understanding my own emotions and feel deeply better, meant less comfort eating. I am now vegetarian and feel so healthy.

2019 was the year my reading included books on self awareness, poverty, Youthwork, but also Paulo Coelho, books on history and other interests like Railways, it also included fiction. It may be the year that over the course of it, I developed a balance.

2019 was the year I took my own medicine I’ve given for so long, and God am I grateful.

2019 was the year I went on holiday with my son George, to Tunisia, and realised that I felt alive, happy and I splashed, swam and danced in the pool, and discovered an external body awareness and confidence a few weeks later.

2019 was the year I went on a guided retreat and discovered through it a love for the rhythm of the daily office. Yet, for the first 3 months I was doing it at someone else house, in my own, with candle, and quiet flat, its calming, beautiful and fabulous.

2019 was the year I started to use the words fabulous, glorious, wonderful, gift, joy and think about dreams, joys, beauty, life.

2019 was the year I started to do things about stuff I care about, and not just care about me, like rejoin labour, like protest about climate, like donate money to charities, like go to conferences, maybe like be vegetarian to some degree.

2019 was the year I began to love myself. Love myself for who I am, because I began to value who I am even more, head to the deep bits, discover the emotional strength I had and have. Love myself because I am actually ok. Love myself because I knew myself, love myself because I had experienced that deep love.

2019 was the year I slowed down my writing, but also started writing more poetry. I guess I had less to write about, professionally, and my energy was elsewhere, like starting a new job, like counselling, like emotional survival at times.

2019 was a year of discovery, a year of learning, a year to focus on me, a year to realise that being open and sharing is a good thing, a year to be in community.

2019 was the year I went to my first English based youth ministry conference.

2019 was the year I discovered some beautiful generous people, a year I saw even more beauty in the world. A year of gifts, received and given.

Thank you all, for being part of it, here’s to 2020!

 

Why I’m thankful for Jose Mourinho leaving Man Utd a year ago

I realised that this week upcoming is particularly significant.

Its one year since Jose Mourinho was sacked as Man Utd manager and as a Man Utd fan, these things are significant.

Theres a number of significant events in my life that I can also remember when they were… because they happened on the same date or time as a Man Utd match, I can remember the date of my first kiss, it was the same date as Liverpool vs Man Utd in January 1994, the game ended 3-3, though united were 3-0 up in the first half. I remember the kiss too, fairly innocent, naive, cute and romantic. But, back to last year, as im not sure theres any more details of my teenage years you want to hear about…

Oh yes, 18th December 2018. The Mourinho Day. I got this news in the car park of the office of the Diocese of Durham at 10am or so. And it made me smile and pump my fist in the air and happy. The Mourinho days were dark days, football was dire, manager with narcissist syndrome. For me they werent the only dark days of 2018. But I remember that day, because I was heading to an interview for the job I love, and the job I have now, and its been a year. I think i got the job, because i was good at an interview presentation – tell you the truth I imagined the interview panel as a group of youthworkers that I was training, and my material was the presentation. It clearly worked. There was just enough endorphins running through my body from the sports news to get me through. I got back home and I was shattered though. A few days later I was told I was successful.

For 2018 had been a year in which I had gone for jobs, applied for others, and not got them, or got that far, this could have been one more the pile. One more where do I actually fit in the youthworker/manager/faith/community/institution spectrum in which i hadnt found somewhere at the time. Thank fully that issue solved itself on Mourinho day.

And at the same time of going for that job, I was also outside from my family home, having separated from my wife since the September before. If it wasnt for the sheer generosity, hospitality and friendship of someone id known 20 odd years, and who could house me free until i had a job, i have no idea where id be. However, thats not to contemplate, I’m grateful. So, whist in the midst of that, I was looking for jobs, and trying to recover from alot, and support around me was forthcoming, via social media and friends.

But on 18th December, I got that job. And its been a year this week since.

So, I have now been the Part-time Team Leader for Communities together Durham for a year, a year in which i have been well supported, managed and have the most amazing team around me who are deeply committed to responding to issues of poverty across the north east. Its no easy job, but it so fits with my skills, and at the time of quite serious emotional upheaval, has given me the flexibility, but also the opportunities to have purpose, grow confidence and rebuild. And through this job, and via the diocese I was also able to access professional counselling, which accelerated the rebuild, the self awareness, the ability to think, make decisions and see things, though am still sincerely indebted to friends for this too.

Because the emotional upheaval only continued, maybe that was predictable. And cut a long story short, until the point in June (after a lovely week in Tunisia) and having been back in the family home for 4 months, that I made the decision to end the relationship.

In July, after again, being in receipt to the most generous hospitality from a different friend (and now new work colleague) for a month, I moved into my own flat, my own home, and it so feels like that, my own home. I cried as the estate agent showed me round it.  And ive been here since July. I am 40 seconds walk from the sea, have lovely neighbours in the block, and am so enjoying cooking, playing my guitar and being able to get home from work, (though i work from home for all 3 jobs i have) and sit, reflect, and often do morning or evening prayer (northumbria community – i went on retreat there a few weeks ago) , and i feel that the flat, and that life itself has been granted to me as a gift. A new gift to treasure and open, to explore, to adventure and dream.

My old family home sold this week, moving on is happening and theres a new reality, routines getting used to. Some of you reading these words have met me in the last 2 or 3 years and would have no idea, and you’re right, you wouldnt. I was good at being closed. Even though some of my posts have shared some vulnerability, some things stayed guarded, and i am pretty good at talking to other people about them. Keep me off subject.

I have so much to be thankful for in 2019, I have so much to be proud of in such a good way. The old addage, what a difference a year makes is certainly true, the last few months has been a time to reflect back over the year, and consider how I got through it all. Theres triggers and awareness, emotions and reactions, only natural, but theyre all ok. For usually i realise quite how thankful I am to be who I am, where I am, to be active in the ministry I am, and loved and treasured by God, my friends and so many people. Life is good. Life is a gift, and i feel like I’m enjoying and appreciating every minute.

Jose Mourinho leaving Man Utd… I owe you one.

I have had easier years, and though theres been despair and desperation, theres also been genuine joy and happiness. I am due a very easy year, though I cant see that happening, theres at least a few challenges around the corner to deal with, and others im sure that I dont know about. So, my review of 2019 starts with a heartfelt thanks to the board of Man Utd for sacking Mourinho, but has a deeper heartfelt thanks to an amazing set of friends, colleagues and the many people who have supported me through this year. I will encourage anyone to go for counselling by the way, i will also suggest that we make space to talk about marriages, relationships and home lives with people more often. Maybe it was only me that was guarded about this before it had hit crisis point, though im not sure talking about marriages ever crops up at youthworker conferences or in supervisions… just a few observations.

Jose Mourinho… you have no idea. Oh, and I’m so glad you got sacked… the football at united is so much better… 😉

 

The Man you’re Made to Be (Martin Saunders, 2019) – A review

Even though I met Martin at the National youth ministry weekend last week, my view of his book has increased in favour since, but not because i forgive him for not taking me out for a coffee, that boy Martin was pretty busy all weekend, and the conference was a good one… (;-))

Back to the book….

Martin has written an engaging, self deprecating at times, accessible book on 11 principle aspects of growing up male in the UK, from emotions, to sex (there was always going to be at least 1 sex chapter..) , about temptation, identity, adventure and a few other aspects, most of which are written with the christian faith in the background and sometimes foreground.

It is a book that has challenges itself to looking at the individual male, and the male in society who, if Martin is right, is almost determined to be a certain type (page xv) – and so attempts to be a counter narrative to this. Though this presupposes that young people aren’t critical of the culture they are in… and some really are.

The Man You're Made to Be

I like this book, though i think, i wanted to like it more, and yes thats even though it frustrated me at times. But i like it even more since the NYMW19 weekend.

The bits i liked

I liked it because Martin isn’t afraid to be personal, and at times real and maybe vulnerable, there’s plenty of personal references, of situations in his own childhood and teenage years, and quite crucially, if he points the finger elsewhere, its at the world of cinema, music or culture, and not a real person he knew or a real situation in a group of young people, this is to be commended. I read the book before I met Martin, though we had conversed via Social media, the book feels like he is having a conversation with you, its a casual chat about some important aspects of life, and comparing this to some of the equivalent books I read as a christian teenager (the teenage survival kit – anyone?), this is less a moral treatice on how to behave – but an encouragement to be a man, a real man growing up in the world and what that’s all about. Its not just about surviving a moment (teenage years) – but attempts to point forward – and ask – ‘what is it you’re made to be’? – and in addition, to have a gentle conversation about some of the alternative views of what being a man is all about.

I like the sense that Martin asks the questions, it is a conversation, and there’s encouraging advice (to reflect on your purpose, to give yourself some moments in silence) , and not necessarily assumptions (‘if you’re someone who, ‘if you’re the sort of person who…., ) , this may reflect that Martin hasn’t got someone in mind as the audience, or a more nuanced reality that he is leaving this a little more open, this is also reflected in that he doesnt make the assumption that the reader is a christian, or a type of christian – yet most chapters do have something about faith in it, and 99% of the time its about the Christian faith, and there’s a whole chapter about Jesus too, yet whilst this book isn’t going to achieve awards for Theological nuance, Martin brings into the conversation stories from the Bible to use as examples, in a way that he also uses his own stories, and movie storylines to reflect on, its what it is, and Martin is good at it. It makes for easy reading.

The bits I wanted to be better

The bits I wanted to be better, were that I just wanted such a book, written for young men, and as someone with a teenage Son, to have something in it that had something like an actual proof, or evidence, or even, references to places where young people could get other help. I liked the conversational tone, but if Martin had stated where such things as ‘the biggest killer of young men is suicide’ comes from, to give it weight. And that same weight, proof, evidence, could be included elsewhere, *and I know this is the kind of thing an academic would say, i realise, but if something as important as alot of what is said in this book, about emotions, about health, about then psychology and sociology, then to say ‘ this comes from research from ____’ – a point being that on a few occasions Martin references the Bible exactly (p61).. so it feels like an opportunity missed, big time.

The other thing, is that by the time I got to the end of the book (and I read it all) I started to get a little tired by the moments like this where Martin left the page and started talking to me, *if you’re reading this, its called breaking the fourth wall like this. And it just got a little irritating, maybe because it wasn’t that necessary, and then it sort of got a bit patronising, especially if i put myself in the place of a 15yr old boy reading it, definitely an 18yr old – because they might feel as if theyre not being talked to at that point..

But then thats another thing, I was trying to work out who the book is directed for…. if it was for young men who have been brought up in churches and christian homes – then theres a distinct sense in the book that each Bible verse and theme needs explaining – and yet many should be familiar to them, even a cursory look at many sunday school teaching materials and most of the stories are covered that Martin uses. Theres very little in the book about a purpose that doesnt involve God – and i will be critical here, if the whole premise of the book is whats said in the conclusion, that ‘The relationship (with God) is above all else , what you’re made for. If you embrace that, everything inevitably falls into place’ – seems quite a trite ending, and is the voice of someone who has had the privilege of now being able to look back (and recount stories of Hollywood) – but what if the young person reading this isnt feeling like ‘everything is fitting into place’ even though they have faith? – they could live in poverty, experience childhood alcohol abuse, be a young carer, and for many adults reading that sentence.. doesnt that suggest that Jesus is the answer? – yet as Martin also suggests throughout, there is work to do in life (like discovering being introvert, or reflecting on purpose, or other activities) … but then – in regard to audience.. is this said to affirm someone who is a christian (the target audience) or said to encourage someone? – given that Martin is tentative initially with faith references, he probably does have a broader audience in mind, but thats a bit confused then with the ending.

I’m glad Martin has written a chapter about Sex (which got all the attention when this book came out), im more glad that Martin has written a chapter about Women, about objectification of women, and how this is endemic (at least in the coffee shops Martin goes to), it may have been good to have a female voice included in this chapter, given that by the 9th chapter the boys reading it, might be interested in hearing it. I guess, also, there’s something Martin could say about women that isn’t said, though its to be applauded that he has written something that is targeted at boys that encourages them to think about equality, just not sure where they themselves go with this if they challenge their all male church leadership team… but hey.. that’s #churchtoo for you – and Martin steps a long way short of encouraging the boys who read the book to share platforms, or to stand aside in the youth group if there’s a girl who is more gifted..

There’s one other problem. I’m not sure whether Martin has written half of a good book. This one is the reactive one. Its as if Martin has looked at some of the issues facing young people today, rightly, and written a response to help young people navigate them, reflect and even grow as a man through them.

What would have been good, is actually, the good. I wanted Martin to suggest what might be good for young people *you mean use actual research that shows whats good for young people yes that. During the process of 2019, young people are taking to the streets in protest for good things, young people are volunteering in politics, young people are having a say- or wanting to. Maybe this could have been encouraged a bit more- and yes, even having a relationship with Jesus permits/encourages these… (As ive said in this blog, psychology suggests that belonging, competence and autonomy are good for us all, including young people, and developing these themes further may have developed the ‘what we’re created to be’ )

Though, I do, generally like this book. It is not without flaws *wittertainment reference for ‘the film podcast’ listeners, its heart is in the right place, and Martin is engaging, yes heartfelt, self depreciating and comes across real and honest. Its real and honest and tries to treat the young person reading it with respect, with a reality that life isnt perfect, and that he isn’t trying to tell the reader what to or not to do (p125) – and for this reason, easily, I would recommend it to any youth leaders who have 13-16 year old boys who might be interested in reading it, as a positive encouragement to thinking about being male, growing up male and being critical of the accepted messages about whats expected or accepted.

Martin Saunders – The Man You’re made to be (2019) can be purchased here:

I have amended my Review, in a previous version, I compared Martins Book, with Neil O Boyles book ‘Under construction’ which was given away free at Youthscapes weekend youth ministry conference. There is no comparison, Martins is light years better. However, whilst i retain an opinion that Under Construction is not just poorly written, potentially damaging and theologically all over the place, I should not have communicated this in the way I did. It does make Martins book look a whole lot better though.