The Measure Of A Year


The passing of a year, at least for me, causes more personal reflection than is usual. I am not one to make resolutions lightly, and to do so in earnest requires a stock take of the time that has passed. In numbers, my year has consisted of:

155 days working with school students,

50 instances of running/playing football

59 intentional hours of prayer,

40 meals with my church,

20 different people round for dinner,

49 shifts at IKEA,

and seeing my girlfriend well over 100 times (cos she’s great).

I visited Switzerland for 4 days,

Sweden for 4,

and Ireland for 13.

I’m sure there are other facts that are good pointers for the year just gone. And many were not expected 12 months ago. In July I decided to be vegetarian, which was also the month I did my first 10k run (in 50 minutes!). September I went full-time working for my church, and in February I raised £200 for Thurrock Foodbank by doing a month-long dessert fast.

I don’t share all this to boast, because in some ways it is not much to shout about. Sure I went some places and did some nice stuff, but these are only the positive stats; thankfully I don’t have a list of tv episodes watched, or hours/days wasted looking at Facebook updates.

All this makes me ask the question, what actually matters? Is it doing good things, or having a good time, or being a good person? Which of the things I chose to occupy myself with this year are of value or worth? This is a far bigger debate than I have room for here and a definitive answer eludes me for now, but here are my current thoughts.

Having temporary use of a car, I decided this afternoon to set out to the dismal environment that is Lakeside Shopping Centre on New Year’s Day. For the final stop on my journey, I went to IKEA to purchase some picture frames (and inevitably some other things I did not originally intend to buy). I wanted to buy a frame because I’ve kept in my possession for the last two years a tatteredpiece of hand-writing from 2014. That Christmas we had organised a get-together for the student helpers at our after-school cafe, with food and music and games, and part of the evening consisted of some speeches. The opportunity arose for one particular boy to speak, and after crafting a few lines before dinner, he got up and said some of the kindest things about the team and myself I have ever heard, and that I still can remember word for word to this day. At the end of the evening, I thanked him and located the paper on which he had written the speech. It was this piece of writing I have finally gotten round to framing.

I believe there is something good and weighty about showing kindness to others. Something eternal maybe. And I feel it has even more significance if done without concern for repayment of any kind. It is in those situations where, if recognition of your deeds is given, it means so much more.

The slanted, scrawled biro words on the paper are not pretty to look at, but seem to me quite amazing and beautiful in their own way. Maybe this year’s resolutions should be less about making me better/faster/stronger, and more about how I can bless and care for those around me.

Hmm. Might have to write a new list now.

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A gun

furrer_submachine_gun_img_3080I held a real gun in my hands for the first time tonight. It had a bit of weight to it, like I imagined it would. The metal was dirty and rough, the wood smooth and polished. Holding it, I wondered if the gun had ever been used, been fired, and why.

Had it been aimed at another person? Had someone used it to frighten, harm, or kill? If it had, I knew it would no longer be used in such a way.

I spent this evening in Leigh-on-Sea, listening to a few people tell their stories. One guy in particular, Shane Claibourne shared his story of how he and his church in Philadelphia were praying for an end to gun violence in their city. They had started to be creative in the way they did this, asking people to donate their guns, which would then be melted down, and beaten, so they became new items. Items like sculptures, guitars, and other things.

The gun I held tonight had been melted and beaten into a pick-axe, used for gardening.

A tool for war made into a tool for growing. Something used to injure could now be used to nurture.

I think it represented a fundamental truth, that even (or perhaps especially) from the full roar of destruction, a redemptive tale can be told, where light and healing abound.

May we all remember to take our weapons of injustice and make them into tools for hope.

May we not be blind to the types of violence that are all around us.

May we continue to trust for ourselves, and for others, beautiful things can be made from the dust.

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Knowledge is power(less)

It was both frightening and interesting to watch a programme on children with significant behavioural problems the other night. Frightening to see that, despite what most people (read: I) imagine raising a child to be like, you can do your absolute best with every good intention, and still face huge obstacles that are completely beyond your control! But it was also interesting, because of the people the programme used to help the families involved.

Peadiatricians and other medical professionals were brought in to assess the child, with a hope that a behavioural, psychological or physiological diagnosis could be made. When being told the results, the parents were obviously quite affected. One mother wept with relief at hearing, after many years of confusion, that her daughter had mild autism. As the experts shared their collective wisdom, it was clear to see the incredible difference it made.

All this was quite inspiring, it made me want to do the same; to be an expert in a particular field so that I could help people like that. And it got me thinking: what if the doctors had not shared their knowledge? What if, instead of helping others, they kept it to themselves? You could be the world’s leading authority in the treatment of cancer, but if you told no-one what you knew, what good would that be?

The accumulation of qualifications was never meant to be an end in itself, I think. Gaining knowledge is not in itself a good thing. It can be done with selfish motives. We read about something like this in the book of Genesis, where mankind thinks a lot of him/herself, and builds a towering skyscraper in Babel to prove it. But knowledge can certainly be beneficial and a blessing to others. In the Gospels, Judas’ head for figures (before things went wrong) was obviously helpful for Jesus and the other disciples in managing their finances.

For myself, I want all that I learn to be of use. I want the books that I read to inspire me to change. I want the courses I do to be good for me and the people around me. I want the experiences I go through to turn into wisdom for my friends. I don’t just want a head full of knowledge, I also want a heart that burns with more passion, and hands that more skilfully show love to others. Surely that is when knowledge is powerful.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

There are times in life that are harder, and times that feel easy. You are likely to agree, no? I think of it, maybe because of my usual commute, somewhat like cycling; days when the wind is against you and every pedal seems uphill, and days when your legs feel like they could take you any distance, and you’re able to sit back, hands-free, wind in your hair, and sail past lines of disgruntled drivers sitting in stationary traffic. I digress.  Continue reading

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If It’s Not Raining, It’s Not Training

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

“Nothing in this world is worth doing or worth having unless it involves effort, pain, difficulty…”

This quote is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, American President of the early 20th century. I know little about him, but I do like this quote. It stood out to me a few months ago reading ‘Follow Me To Freedom’ by John M. Perkins and Shane Claibourne, in the chapter entitled ‘Pain’. Not a barrel of laughs to read that one, but necessary and healthy to do so. Continue reading

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Min Tankar

This is Sweden. Isn’t it lovely?

This month brings with it two instances of Swedishness.

We (my housemates and I) want our house to be a place of hospitality, because we know it is a good challenge to welcome people into your home.  There is a level of relationship that is formed when you invite someone in and share food with them. That is different again when they live with you. Hospitality is a value commonly found in many monastic communities, and one that is also at the heart of 24-7 Prayer. I love the way sharing your home pushes you to think about why you live the way you do, and what is important to you. Marie (from Sweden) came to stay with us at the start of May, and my hope is that we will have all learnt and grown during her stay here, and that she will have been as blessed by it as much as we will be. Continue reading

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Rewind and Repeat

The first week in March marked the first anniversary of my move to Stanford-le-Hope. Looking back on what the past 12 months have brought my way is slightly awe-inspiring. I do recognise the usual admission of ‘it seems like only yesterday…’ but more truthfully, noting all that has happened, and all I’ve done, it seems to add up to more than a year’s worth. Continue reading

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The value of love

Holding handsThe events of recent times and the response of my community have given me cause to wonder about life slightly, and to maybe take a bigger step back to see a wider view of things. In doing so I have come to a lightly held conclusion.

Love is a risk. Continue reading

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The Power of Stories

I’ve only recently realised how much impact a good story can have. Perhaps I should have seen it before, as there are many things that indicate this: films, books, tv series, songs. And not only do fictional tales grab hold of us for a lifetime, but real-life ones too. The ending of apartheid in South Africa is a story that still inspires hope. The story of each gold medalist in the Paralympics are all probably equally breath-taking too. Continue reading

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There is something powerful about having a dream.

Take Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech, ‘I Have A Dream’. It was not simply that he talked a good talk (and indeed walked the walk), but the inspiration and hopefulness of his words was and continues to be incredibly influential for millions of people in many different ways. Continue reading

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