7/7 (In Less than 24 Hours) – A Poem

Writelight* Shedding light through words

On the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings I’ve decided to post a poem which I wrote shortly after that fateful day, seven (eta: now 10) years ago. Thanks to Gillan Scott over at God and Politics UK who has also featured it on his (former) site. [Gillan can now be found over at archbishopcranmer.com]

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From elation to deflation
in less than twenty-four hours
From euphoria and applause
on the streets of London,
to sudden, forceful pause
across the transportation network.

Stillness in the city,
but for the sirens, the screams.
From gasps of delight
to gasps of horror,
From cheerful celebrations
to serene silence.

Lives cruelly snatched away.
Hearts leapt on Wednesday,
sank on Thursday –
Hope sapping from the heart of London
and the heart of man.
But our hope is in you, sovereign Lord

As the nations rage
our hearts remain steadfast in You.
Eight…

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The Great Deception – That little things really don’t matter

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Creative Commons: Adam Bermingham

Every day that we’re breathing we’re making countless decisions that range from minor to major concerning multiple aspect of our lives – whether food, finances or family, to career, creativity or care. Frequently the major things trump the minor – since there are certain responsibilities in life that have to be fulfilled. We mustn’t neglect these crucial parts of our lives; but neither should we let the interludes and short spaces of time slip away unnoticed.

The little things are not necessarily unimportant or trivial – take teeth brushing or charging our phones, for instance. We wouldn’t dream of removing them from our daily routine. We know they make a difference.

In the same way, I’ve been considering the impact of small actions, gestures or habits over our lives as a whole. It’s tempting to overlook the little things, to view them as insignificant or of no great value. Yet much of life is made up of little things. Over time, those minor choices and habits may have multiple knock on effects that end up being life changing or radically important. Countless minutes here and there add up to hours and days. Time is like currency, the pennies add up; likewise our actions form the tapestry of our lives.

Consider a common spending habit: The decision to make your own lunch every day instead of dropping into a café could mean saving £50 a month (if you spent £1.50 on a packed lunch rather than £4.00 or more at your favourite hangout). That’s a £600 yearly saving. You could buy an iPad for that and still have change! But maybe you really like going to cafes and don’t want an iPad – that’s fine, the choice is yours. We all have different preferences. But if you wanted to move somewhere nicer with a slightly higher rent, changing your lunch habits could mean you might be able to afford it.

Or how about walking more instead of driving everywhere? (I know, really not very possible for those out in the sticks.)  Still, you could choose to take the stairs or park at the far end of the car park. Over time, you’ll be stacking up little chunks of calorie burners and toning those muscles. (Have you tried walking fast up three flights of stairs lately? It IS exercise!)

The above examples might well be the obvious examples, but what about other daily decisions? Who to follow on Twitter or who to talk to at the end of a meeting? Whether to attend a certain function or event or stay home, whether to ask that person out for coffee? Whether to write that letter of complaint (I did – to Legoland, and got free tickets to Warwick Castle) or whether to chat to your neighbour for a few minutes. Whether to watch the TV or find out what’s up with your unusually quiet child?

‘Does it really matter?’ some will be asking right now.

Yes it does! Sometimes it may be more significant than you realise, other times the little things might have no great consequence – but still, you’ll find that you’ve been intentional with your actions, your time and your relationships.

Valuing the little things should not be confused with the phrase ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. That’s a different idea altogether – and one that I would not dispute in any way. We really shouldn’t waste time worrying or fretting over minor matters that are not important or that we’re unable to change. It’s also not much use revisiting past events or actions, wondering where we went wrong or what we should have done differently. Instead of mulling over past decisions, choose to take more care over what you decide in future.

Sometimes it’s good to think of little snippets of time as opportunities. An opportunity to phone a friend, or to be still and reflect. An opportunity to get some fresh air or to do something creative; an opportunity to ask a question or take a risk.

It’s easy to think that five minutes of writing or praying or walking won’t make any difference. Most won’t bother; we think we have to set aside at least an hour to something for it to be worth doing. Or we think we must dash away, and miss talking to someone who could have been really interesting. Or maybe we think that we couldn’t possibly rest for three minutes. (Try it sometimes, three minutes with your eyes closed in a quiet place – it can really help to de-stress  you during a manic day. Just don’t try it while driving!)

Making the most of little moments, like a hand across your partner’s shoulder or choosing to look at the trees or the skyline on your way to work, can add up to make a typical dull day richer or more interesting. No matter how busy we are, we even have choice over how to spend our thought life. While walking or driving or washing up, we can choose to direct our thoughts a certain way. We don’t have to hold on to an angry thought or a complaint.

For me, what springs to mind especially are the little interactions that I bothered to have with people I met that led to great opportunities.

I once asked a visiting speaker at a school where I was teaching whether he needed any writers. An exchange of business cards at the end of a lesson – led to a freelance writing opportunity for me. Another time, a decision to follow a certain person on Twitter, led to a writing event in London. The little things certainly can make a difference to our lives.

In the Bible, there’s a verse about ‘making the most of every opportunity’ [Colossians 4:5]. Although this is referring to sharing the good news with non-believers, I think it serves well to remind us how to make the most of every moment of our lives, in every context. Let’s not get sucked into the great deception – that we can only achieve something or make a difference if we spend lots of time on something. Taking just a little time to smile at someone or offer help can be something really significant from their point of view. Likewise, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ communicates more than you think.

The little things in our day accumulate over the years – particularly in the area of relationships. A few minutes spent thinking about the important people in your life and how to please them or build stronger ties can make a massive difference over time. It would be detrimental to dismiss the value of little thoughts, words and deeds.

I feel challenged to be more intentional about how I spend snippets of spare time across the week and to consider more how little actions can indeed have big effects. How about you? Has any small decision or action been greatly significant to you in the long run?

[For a contrasting perspective on matters of time and life, check out this archived post: A Question of Time.]

Youthwork Blog/ FaithWalk

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I recently attended a Youthwork Writers’ Masterclass in London, led by Martin Saunders. I had a great day learning some nifty writing stuff and met a bunch of lovely people.

Check out my guest blog post ‘The Adult Group’ over at Youthwork Magazine’s website. The article explores how we view youth in a church setting and the trouble with treating young people as a homogeneous group.

http://youthwork-magazine.co.uk/main/blogs/theadultgroup

Hanging Out With The Smokers/ FaithWalk

Photo Credit: Julie Bocchino/ Creative Commons

A sea of faces surrounded me after the church service. I scanned the room but somehow felt disconnected. Everyone seemed caught up in conversations or huddles. I wasn’t in the mood to try and be sociable or welcome the newcomers. So I withdrew from the hub of activity and chatter and headed outside.

Although it was a bitterly cold winter’s day, the sun shone brilliantly, casting warmth, light and shadows around the walls of the building. Leaning against the sand coloured bricks, I enjoyed the sun’s rays and the solitude for a few moments. After a while a couple of others came to join me. But they were there for a different purpose…to light up and enjoy a smoke. Then came another. One rolled her own cigarette, the others drew theirs from a packet.

We started up a conversation; it was laid back and I realised how little I knew of these people who sat a few rows away from me minutes earlier.

I don’t normally chat to these individuals, perhaps giving only a cursory glance and a polite ‘hello’ upon passing by over coffee. They have different styles and backgrounds to me, we probably don’t have much in common – though a couple of them also have kids.

One chap in a wheelchair explained how he’d arrived a bit late and missed coffee. But he wasn’t moaning, he was smiling about his mistake of setting off too late. I had also missed my cuppa, but wasn’t too pleased about it.

Another woman mentioned someone we knew who’s rather marginalised and looks a bit of a sorry state most of the time. I discovered that she had invited him for Christmas dinner upon finding out that he would be all alone. This from a woman with a young family and who is obviously not well off. I was humbled. She had been Christ-like in opening her home to a lonely, difficult  person; I didn’t really want the hassle of even considering something like that.

One of my sons also came outside to join me. He was fed up and wanted to go home. He often finds church boring. But he observed these smokers and listened to the conversation. The guy in the wheelchair asked him about gaming and his iPod touch. My son’s face lit up, pleased that some interest was shown in him.

These people I hung out with do not have easy lives or much money. Yes, they were wasting some on cigarettes, but maybe I’m a bit profligate when it comes to wine or shoes at times. Some could perhaps have been described as typical working class or on the sidelines. They hadn’t reached a high level of education or attained notable status in the community or church. But somehow they inspired me and somehow I learned from them. I enjoyed their company, their smiles and acceptance. I didn’t have to be anything other than me.

It reminded me that it’s good to be broadminded and get to know those from different communities or groups to the one you’re settled in. In those few short minutes outside among some wafts of cigarette smoke, I experienced true Christian fellowship – all divisive barriers down, everyone an equal child of God. And I found it quite refreshing. It’s encouraged me to seek opportunities to be on the edge, to gain a different perspective and to learn from others in unsuspecting places. Having just heard a gripping talk on issues of social justice it seemed quite an appropriate lesson to learn.

Poem: Summer Psalm: Contented Soul

Photo by Peyri from Flikr’s Creative Commons

[It may not be summer, but the gorgeous sunshine today reminded me of a poem I wrote when my boys were younger…]

Sunshine in my hair

Warm rays soak through the skin

Perforating my soul with feelings

Of ridiculous contentment, as I

Absorb this summer day and await another

Long leisurely night

 

Slow down

No need to hurry now

Drink in beauty from

Above and around, strolling through Central Park

Sipping ice cold juice or playing

Inane invented games with my boys

 

Giggles and sparkling eyes abound

Listen intently to my stories

We lie down

Heads towards heaven

Pondering changing faces

In the clouds

 

Ice cream and hotdogs

Friends, family, you and me

So good to be a part of

This unique unit, bonded

In heart and spirit

Joined by common experiences

 

And I thank God for His goodness, for the

Golden glow on my face.

Sand gives way beneath

Bare feet, and I

Marvel at this wonderful

Expanse called ‘sea’

 

I could never tire gazing upon her

Shifting patterns nor hearing her

Distinct rhythmic power

As waves splash our faces

Sheer force won’t let me forget

Your guiding hand through life

 

This earthen vessel recharged

Ready for the dark days ahead

When sunshine is rare

And my hands and heart grow cold

If I should stray from You

Keep the flame alight in my life,

Don’t want to extinguish your

Blazing, breath-taking fire

 

So I’ll choose to carry

Summer in my heart throughout

The changing year

FaithWalk/ Delight is a verb…

As I lay awake last night, restless in thought, one word kept resounding in my head. ‘Delight’.

Psalm 37:4 was one of the first verses I learnt off by heart as a young Christian – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

As I pondered these words, which also form the first of four crucial mission statements by my local church (to “Delight in God”), I mulled over what this little phrase truly means.

Delight yourself. It involves a decision; a decision made by you – no one else can make it happen, in the same way that you are not responsible for others to delight. You don’t have to do it. And delight won’t necessarily fall upon you randomly without some participation.

Delight yourself. It involves an action – stepping out and doing something or looking out for something to ‘delight in’. Similar to the word ‘enjoy’, which usually accompanies an action or an experience. For example, we say “I enjoy making/ going/ watching…” How can I actively delight in God? What can I do to encourage delight? Praising? Thanking? Resting in Him?

Delight yourself. It involves emotions. Delight is usually hard to contain; you can’t help expressing it somehow. Like a child’s joy in finding their garden covered in the first snow of winter. Or the overwhelming desire to share that good news you’ve received.

A saying I heard that has impacted me several times in the last year is: “Delight is the gauge of the human heart that measures what we value most.” (Adam Bradley, Life Church) Wow! What we delight in most, we value most.

If I have at times struggled with delighting in God, I’m sure it’s often linked to a tendency to focus delight on other people or activities; other things that provide only momentary joy. Not that those other aspects of life are inherently wrong or not worthy of attention. No, God wants us to enjoy the wonder of His world, our relationships and creative pursuits. But who or what do we delight in most?

I think to ‘delight in the Lord’ is a decision to find ways of utterly enjoying Him. Once we make a decision and begin to act, delight takes over and we can’t refrain from expressing the overflow of our hearts. “I choose to delight in God today.” May this be a daily practice for every follower of Christ.