Losing battles you’re never going to win

My Gran ‘lost her battle with dementia’ earlier this morning. Yet since the day of the diagnosis over 5 years ago, there was only ever going to be one winner. It wasnt really a fair battle, not like two equal teams, where one has a chance of an upset, or the Lord of the Rings when the living enquire on the possibility of the dead fighting on their side.  The fight my gran had with dementia, and many many others have had to endure is not one that has a happy physical ending.

As a battle that she lost it was an unfair contest from the outset. She died at peace.

This afternoon i took myself out for a walk with the dog, along the beach at Crimdon, the tide was coming in, and nearly fully in, but it wasnt so dangerous near to the cliffs that i was going to get stuck, and though it was windy, the sea was calm.

I needed the space, some time to reflect, some time just to reconnect with the bigness of the world again. If it wasnt so windy, i might have gone out on the bike instead. But the sea was therapeutic. The dog a stupid distraction as ever.. rolling in dead seal…

But it did make me wonder, and think just a little bit practically about the nature of the local aspects of ministry, whether with young people, in organisations, in churches and think about whether there are actually any battles in the roles that we’re in that we’re doomed to lose, as soon as we’ve started, or the die has been cast. Not to be deliberately morbid or negative, but genuinely are there battles that lost before they’ve been fought?

The question might be, how do we get out of them, or how might we overcome them, despite them.  The reality in terms of faith is that we might be called to play the correct part in every situation, that every situation is an opportunity to walk ‘in the light’ even when circumstances are dark, or the battle of its situation has been lost.

Whilst thinking about the seriousness of funding situations, the solution might not be obvious, but it might not be impossible. Compare this to a shift in government policy for young people that shifts its direction slowly from provision to proscription. But neither is a situation with a person, or a young person a battle lost, but an opportunity to overcome.

If they say ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast ‘ does a battle to change culture be inevitably draining, invigorating but challenging, though on other occasions that cultural practice is so strong it consumes the fight. Better to get out the wheel and make a new path than hope the wheel helps the path be made I guess.

But are there genuinely ‘losing’ battles in youth work & ministry?


Life in the scenes – not just in the journey.

A couple of articles have prompted this reflection. The first one is here, a slightly typical Guardian article posted at the end of the Olympics and the start of the football season. It highlighted that the Olympics, and most sports apart from Football, and probably Cricket and Golf; there is the need for the Sport to educate, to reflect for us, the audience to be inspired by the journey of the athlete, for the athlete, usually still dripping with sweat to tell us their story;

“These days, fewer and fewer sporting moments are permitted not to be a learning experience, as though enjoying them purely sportingly, and for their own sake, would be a waste of time or a lesser experience. There must be hugging. There must be learning. Post‑event interviewers are always effectively asking the person who has provided the sporting moment what we’ve learned from it. We get the long view while the athlete is still out of breath.”

The need for the Olympian to be narrated into having a journey- or a back story- has become a priority for the broadcaster, the sport might not sell otherwise- unless it can be a personal narration. Life is a Journey- and individual sports – and even individual athletes in team sports ( like the womens hockey for example) are key to drawing us into that journey.

Did the phenomenon start with Big Brother? – In the broader sense of ‘Reality TV’ the journey of the individual became/is the story. Every Big Brother contestant was asked to reflect on their Journey, every X factor contestant gets asked the same. And if they dont get asked – then they’re told “what an amazing/incredible” journey theyve been on, by the presenter. Are we still interested about what people bake on bake off, or sew in the sewing bee – as much as their back story?

Life has to be a journey doesnt it.

Has to be ‘moving forward’ – has to be ongoing progression – and whilst there is always growth – is Journey always an appropriate way of thinking about life?

The second article i cant find, i did read it, it is somewhere on the excellent Threads website (www.threadsuk.com) and posed the question: ‘Whats wrong with thinking about life as a Journey?’ A race of sorts with a beginning, a middle and an end. Does Journey – do life a disservice?

Is it not easy then to think of speed when thinking of journey – of life ‘in a slow lane’ – or feeling like ‘life is passing you by’ – If we consider life to be a journey – then it would be easy to use the analogy to make those comparisons of others, and then naturally ourselves. What if we become motionless or stuck, or struck down by illness- how does this metaphor measure up? and does it promote winning and participating?

Maybe as Christians- we have the apostle Paul to thank – when on a number of occasions he uses the word ‘race’ as a metaphor for the Christian life –

You were running a good race. – Galatians 5:7,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race- 2 Timothy 4:7

The Christian life as a race, as a physical movement, a Journey. Maybe this had something to do with the culture of the day, the pastimes of sport, of olympia, of shows of strength in battle, of winning, of achieving:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Image result for life as a race

Achievement does play its part, as rewards in heaven are described. But what does the grand race of life consist of? And the predominant narrative – via the media, and often becoming of the church, of life as a Journey, is it fitting for the purpose of conceiving our place in the world, our place as humans in discipleship, in relationship with God or is there a different way?  Where is God in ‘our’ journey? in ‘our’ race?

In the beginning of existence a voice acted upon the empty space, a word broke the silence, a universe created ; the world dawned. The stage was set for the action to occur.

To be or not to be is not the question, it is not our choice. We are “thrown into existence” (Heidegger) We are Here on stage with many others (Vanhoozer, 2005). We need guidance to play parts, prompting as we grope for the next lines, being cast into a context to play a particular scene. But we are on the stage, principally actors with scenes to play.

Instead of the Journey – what of the scene?

For Shakespeare: “When we are born, we cry that we are come, To this great stage of fools” (King Lear)

It is difficult to conceive of every moment in life as part of a journey – but they are scenes in and of themselves, a scene in the home when washing up, a scene in a lift with business colleagues, a scene in the supermarket, a scene at Church, a scene in the youth club. Not only are we thrust into the scenes of the place, but we play alongside others too, in that same scene. Taking cues from the moments, combining them with our memories of actions, our emotions of actions, the voices, values and attitudes. Scenes that we thrust ourselves into, scenes that others are thrusted into by surprise – like the new person at the checkout, the visitor at the door.

But in the scene also contains the voice of God – known or unknown – prompting the action – God incarnate on the stage (John 1:14) drawing us into the action,  The God who speaks in the Earthly space (Exodus 3:12-20), who prompts the action with Humanity (Genesis 18: 22-33), and who cues the action, and knowledge of action by the Spirit (Luke 4). These are scenes already enacted, yet it remains a relational drama that is played out – between the divine and the human.

In a way, it is less of our Drama that we continue to play as Christians, but Gods Drama – a Theodrama. This, it could be argued, is somewhat more of a conversational construct – than to see life as our Journey that we choose to involve God in- or that he is the destination. Does the Journey represent a monologue where we take the reigns – and Drama an ongoing conversational dialogue? (Vander Lugt, 2014) – I suppose it depends on who does the speaking and listening as the ongoing scenes are enacted. But collective drama, that involves God in the ongoing scenes that we are thrust into during our every day, every 10,000 scenes of every day are part of on overall Theo drama.

Being on a Journey – and Pilgrim and his Progress, the Chronicles of Narnia all narrate the importance of the journey – or at least they might do – but the journey would be nothing without the scenes. Not every day feels like a journey – but today , tomorrow and the next we are thrust into action upon the stage of the world – in Gods ongoing drama, and how do and should we play our parts?


12 things to be thankful for at the end of a few challenging weeks. 

This week wasn’t meant to be this way. Our original family plan was to be away for 10 days from last week to this weekend, but the bringing forward of my wife’s hysterectomy operation changed those plans. She had the operation last Wednesday (all successful by the way) after we swiftly rearranged a weekend away in Devon , camping, just so that we could have something of a family holiday during the school holidays. 

So this week has been one of being off work but looking after Lynn in recovery and also my teenagers at home. 

As I was walking the dog earlier I was thinking that it would be easy to maybe moan about not having a holiday or about having to stay in for a week, but instead I realised quite how much for these two weeks I’ve got to be thankful for, thinge easy to forget in the busyness of balancing lots of things … and so, in no particular order they are; 

  1. NHS Staff and Nurses- for 7 days this summer we’ve felt the benefit of the dedication, competence and attitude of the NHS doctors, consultants, nurses and support staff at North tees hospital. See here for my wife’s reflections of her stay. But much to be thankful for, even if they’re all doing their jobs, they do it under a huge amount of stress and stretched resources. 
  2. A rerranged trip to Devon and the weather. It was an indulgence of food (aside from the camping cooking) and stunning weather. My only ever British camping experience with no rain. Quality time with the family and a visit back to our former home town to catch up with people we left a few years ago. A few personal fears were exorcised to. A short evening on the beach at Salcombe regis, a hidden gem of a beach not far from the campsite. It was just great to swim in the sea for 15 minutes. 
  3. As i walked my dog today, the parakeets in burn valley wood were cawcawing. A gentle reminder to me of how even the sounds of tropical birds in an urban park is out of context and incoherant. Subversive but also beautiful.Of how things out of their context can be a blessing. 
  4. Blogging, its kept my creative mind from going a little insane, i know im not as interesting or as funny as i think i am but sometimes its just thearpy for a confused, thinking soul. Thanks to those who read, ask questions and comment, for those who share my posts well, your treasures are due. For the people who encourage me to blog more thank you. But I love the process more. 
  5. Cycling. Even with everything going on I’ve managed to get out and do a few short rides, about 30 miles this week. Not wanting to be too far away from the house as my usual form of rescue is unable to drive. Even George has joined me on the cycling and tolerated cycle geekiest.   Quality father-son times out in the teesside lanes. Deep Joy. 
  6. Last Friday, whilst Lynn was still in hospital I took the dog out for a walk down crimdon beach. At the end of a week of driving 1000 miles and Lynns operation. I felt the fresh air. Took a deep breath.. and breathed. Epic space. 
  7. Flowers & visits. Thank you to those who’ve visited Lynn in hospital over the summer and at home. For the comments on facebook and the 5 bunches of flowers I’ve collected from the front door. It’s been nice to be remembered and we have run out of vases. Fortunately I’ve not had to arrange them!  Thank you. 
  8. This summer has not been about me, and rightly so. But a few people have asked how I am. Those people, you know who you are. Thank you, it means a lot. 
  9. Blackberries that grow in my garden. Next door have a blackberry bush, which we share the fruits of. So since last Wednesday I’ve picked a daily small bowl of blackberries. A daily supply of blackberry goodness all for free. Last year we made blackberry wine and Jam.  It was so nice we might do the same soon. But, along with the produce we planted deliberately, like spring onions, lettuce, potatoes, beetroot and herbs it’s just such a great feeling eating my own grown food. 
  10. Thank you to a few people I’ve met this week who care passionately about young people in their village. With the right support and prodding it’s the start of some amazing work hopefully in a needy area. 
  11. For evenings watching films. From the shire to the lonely mountain and back again, watching the hobbit & lotr with George and sheffields finest dancers , laughing along revisiting The Full Monty a film lynn and i hadnt seen sInce 97… Not forgetting a day out at Tyneside cinema (a lovely place to be) to have lunch and watch ‘the BFG’ with Anna. Just a magical film and time with her. (It was a few weeks ago, I might add)
  12. Finally, I have been able in and amongst all of this get a few hours studying done, and revisiting 3 of Vanhoozers seminal texts has been the usual refreshing worshipful moments and of learning. 

It would be easy to complain, and yes at times tiredness and impatience has taken over, when I’d hope people might be more helpful around the house.. but in the big scheme of things some of those things don’t matter, instead there’s a lot to be thankful for. And stopping to appreciate these things whilst walking the dog was a blessing in itself. 

(Thank you to Becca Dean who writes blogs about thankfulness every week and challenges me everytime to have that same attitude) 

    Nurses make the worst patients.. but make acute reflections on the state of the NHS.  

    Early this morning my beloved wife and nurse practitioner) Lynn, wrote the following on her Facebook page having just had surgery at north tees hospital. An astute reflection of the state of the NHS from both sides of the recovery bed. The NHS needs more funding. Not less and be judged on its current underfunded state.

    As I lie in my hospital bed following major surgery it has set me to pondering why nurses are reported as making the ‘worst’ patients

    Could it be that we set high standards knowing how things should be done so we can see when things are not right ?

    Could it be that we see how the staff are stressed over worked and rushed off their feet.

    Yesterday when I arrived on the ward it took 2 hours to get some water I had to wait over an hour for pain relief on more than one occasion . The nurse was too busy  to ring my next if kin to let them know I was back on the ward she was nearly in tears when she admitted she forgot. The easiest thing for me to do would be to feel annoyed and cross at being left in pain ,angry that james wasn’t informed I was back and ok (thankfully I had my mobile to text him).

    I could join the other patients moaning and griping…. But all I honestly feel is compassion  for these over worked nurses knowing that if I press my buzzer again to ask for more pain relief it puts more pressure on them. I know that they do not want to see me in pain but they are only human not superhuman they have only one pair of hands, one pair of legs.

    I also know it takes two trained nurses to check the medication  that I needed that meant both nurses needed a windows of space at the same time and they would have had to get doctor to prescribe it first. I know that I am one of maybe more than 10 patients that nurse has to look after. I know the nurse yesterday didn’t have a break but still smiled and kept going.

    So in reflection if I am the ‘worst patient’ its because when in hospital I feel like a spare wheel . I feel all the emotions and pain like any patient after major surgery but I feel helpless to support my ‘Nursing Family ‘.

    I have Huge Respect for hospital Nurses XXX

    sorry if this is garbled I did get pain relief lol and it was strong 😂

    January journal 1; first week back

    It’s a bit of a late one this; Saturdays blog is written and its one that im a bit nervous of. Sometimes thats the adrenaline of writing and sharing thoughts, waiting for reactions or feedback. Thats what the world is now isnt it, a lengthy diatribe of opinion and im as much in that world. Anyway this week is nearly ended, first week back at work,  first week of the year, first week trying to write a blog every day.
    It’s definitely been a good discipline so far. I’ve probably not been at my most articulate best,  but put that down to post Christmas alcohol.
    Ive confessed before that I’m not much of a film person, but this week ive watched 4 movies;  the blind side,  skyfall, alien and Amy. A bit of a mix. Some tragic, inspiring and very different genres at some of their best. I went to the sporting theatre of the riverside stadium last saturday , took the boy to the boro match. 81 minutes of tense dramatic visual action, then 2 goals, delirium, relief, and a spectacle of celebration between team and audience. Unpredictable theatre.

    I managed 3 days of study,  planning a presentation on the subject of youth ministry management in churches. It keeps growing arms and legs as I consider power, roles, identity and the methodology of the theological reflection. However studying, reading and thinking is just wonderful,  a space where I feel alive.
    Not so good was our old house not enjoying being rained on for a few days, the old girl might need serious roof repair, just hope theres no more heavy rain for a while, count my blessings though as many have had more serious problems with actual flooding this week, especially in my former city of Perth. 
    Next week detached starts again, itll be great to be out in the streets chatting to young people, it feels like it’s been a while with the Christmas break.  Ive caught up with a few Nomad podcasts this week on my commutes, theyve been challenging and also a good reflection on my reading on emerging church for my other module. I can’t sometimes keep up with the thoughts in my head and I suppose thats why im wide awake now. A late coffee, choc chip panetone slice and watching ‘Amy’ and realising that the world of opinion, speculation and invasion has victims, victims where there is no escape. Amy Winehouse, tragedy. Yet my mind is awake. So this week ive kept up with some of my promises.  Next week ill get out in the bike. No I will. I must. Ill let you know in a week…