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 Step 1:  A missional expression is about living out your faith in a collective way, about loving your tribe – about knowing who your tribe is.  With this in mind, your missional expression will need a ‘vehicle’.  Most of the time this will be figurative.  However, sometimes it will turn out to be literal…

 

 

 

 

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 Step 2:  …(and even have retro cool-appeal) Once you have established what your vehicle is, you need to spend some time examining said vehicle from every angle…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Step 3:  Think it through – is it just your ‘big idea’ or can others get onboard with you?  Once you’ve thought this through it’s time to get going! 

 

 

 

 

 (So for a beach/surf based missional expression here’s how it might go next)

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 Step 4: Put Jesus at the centre.  There’s not much point otherwise.  Surf, play on the beach, be part of the tribe you belong to in this context.  And as you live authentically it may be that others who share your interest, your passion, will join you…

 

 

  

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Step 5:  Be open to others joining you who have a different way of living out the missional expression.  Not everyone will want to jump into a wetsuit and catch some waves.  But how great would it be if a differently gifted, differently impassioned person wanted to be on the beach getting the barbecue ready for when everyone gets out of the water, ready to eat?

 

 

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Step 6:  …So it’s not surprising that more people will join in time.  It’s going to be awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

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Step 7: Shared beach, shared surf, shared food, shared life, shared love.  Authentic lives lived openly with one another.  And the chance to hang out in a VW campervan? 

 

 

 

 

 

 Okay, this is a playful rendering of an idea we’ve had.  Children’s toys make everything look fun!  Who knows what will happen, but in the meantime we’re going to have some fun on the beach anyway, because it’s what we love to do and we spend far too little time doing it.

Time has once again been on my mind. 

A while back our pastor told us that the speed of God is 3 miles an hour (I am paraphrasing…), because that’s walking speed.  It’s the speed we need to travel at to connect with His world and to notice the people around us, to become aware of and attuned to our environment.

A few sermons back we heard that you can’t hurry a tomato – and I love the message of waiting and expectation that is implied.

Then at the weekend, after a rotten few weeks of being poorly, and finally enjoying being on the mend, I was excited to receive the latest edition of Jamie Magazine, Jamie Oliver’s most recent adventure in publishing.  It was full of lush photography, gorgeous recipes, and some lovely evocative articles.  My favourite was about a winemaker in Beirut, whose passion and relish for wine and for his country infused everything he said.

I loved this:

“This is my Beirut,” says Serge, in his soft, exotically accented English. “And these are my babies, they improve with age.” He waves an immaculate cuff over the six or seven million bottles of vintage Musar, that are quietly, splendidly maturing in cool damp dark cellar cut deep into the flanks of Mount Lebanon.

“My wines need time”,  [Serge] states, “Time to grow, time to mature, time to taste.  Now, ” as he eases the corks from bottle after venerable bottle, “let us take our time.”

A few weeks back I read a little filler article in the Guardian about a journalist’s one-day attempt to ‘go slow’.  It was a bit of a half-hearted effort really, and seemed to mainly consist of her getting stressed about not getting stuff done.  It made me think once again about the obstacles which lie in our way as we pay lip-service to slowing down, to relishing life.  I don’t live a crazy manic life really, but it’s very full and busy enough to always have stuff undone.  Not so unusual really, but in terms of appreciating the world I’m in (in the micro as well as macro sense) and in terms of simply paying attention to those who come my way, most of the time life is too much of a blur to be that intentional about it.  And that just isn’t good enough really.

So I’m brought to wondering if that’s the underlying blessing of being ill so often, and in particular having a really horrible bug that has floored me for the last fortnight and intermittently for the 3 weeks prior to that.  ‘Go slow, take a little time’ became a command to be obeyed, not a suggestion to be shrugged off.

And so now, as I return to ‘normal’  I look back over the last five days in particular, as I felt less ill and more on the mend.  The afternoons spent curled on a garden chair in my pyjamas and dressing gown, cup of tea at my side, unread paper on my knee as I listened to the blackbirds singing, watched the apple blossom begin to flower, saw blue tits begin making their home in the bird box on the side of the garage.  The drowsing in the sunshine, the time taken to mull over interesting articles in the paper or magazines, the long chats with friends and family on the phone.  The sowing of seeds, the gentle easing of seedlings into pots and vegetable plots.  Time to reflect, infused with the hope and promise of spring.

I like going slow.  Taking my time is my favourite thing.  Looking another person in the eye and being entirely focussed on them – “love the one” as we’ve heard in church recently – is a powerful experience and a powerful gift to give to another person. 

So as I return to life with a little less leisure, (but hopefully a lot more health) I am holding on to those thoughts, those aspirations and aim to moment by moment put them into practice.  A little time well spent.

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How exciting!  Lucy has given me a blogging award (along with some of my other favourite bloggers too, I feel very privileged).  Here’s what I need to do in exchange:

  1. Post the award on your blog, and link to the person who gave you the award (done that, and please check out Lucy’s lovely blog)
  2. List seven things you love
  3. List seven blogs you love (just seven?)
  4. E-mail or comment on those blogs to let the people know you’ve given them the award

Seven things I love?

  1. My little family – husband and daughter, and the collection of special toys who play such an important part in our four year old’s life that they Had Better Never Get Lost
  2. Following Jesus (although, to be absolutely honest, there are also times when I grind my teeth with frustration at how this works out in my life)
  3. Our church and in particular our small group, not forgetting the friends, near and far, who are extended family and form our daughter’s God Squad (because we couldn’t choose between them when it came to thinking about godparents, they’re all so amazing and special to us)
  4. Painting, drawing, making. I do this in spurts of energy and then long periods elapse where it just gets sidelined…
  5. …but the compensation is I get to work somewhere I can enable children, adults, colleagues to be creative and that is often enough
  6. The sea.  It scares me but I love it.  Beautiful sandy beaches are great but I’ve almost always lived in proximity to the North Sea, and so it’s the wind-swept dunes and grey thundering waves that make my heart beat a little faster
  7. Books.  I love reading, and always have way too many on the go at once, so it takes me ages to get any one book finished unless I’m using it as a ‘comfort read’ when I’m feeling low or as a break from more challenging reads.  I confess I also love books as objects (our oversized living room bookcase is testament to that), and am trying hard not to be envious of one of my colleagues who is also a book-lover and collects first editions.  THAT would not be good for me.  Maybe one day I’ll go and visit her books. I mean her.

Seven blogs I love (Nb. Lucy’s already namechecked a couple of my favourites, so I’ll let them enjoy their awards from her and award seven completely different ones)

  1. I have to mention my husband’s blog (The State That I Am In). It’s a fantastic blog with a strong musical undercurrent. I would love it even if he wasn’t my husband, I promise!
  2. Fourth Space is the blog of one of our small group friends.  It’s so thought-provoking, lots of creative and analytical thinking and processing (for both blog author and blog reader).
  3. Have you checked out Coffee Shop Journal? It’s a really great read, reflections on life, faith and more, book reviews and thoughtful applications of lessons learned, and always written with grace and humility. 
  4. The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus is in many ways (for me) the perfect blog.  All pictures!!!  I don’t know how he comes up with these fresh, funny and often cutting images so frequently.  Man or machine?! No machine could be this creative and offer such a human and humane perspective on the world.
  5. Without Wax (I even love the name of this blog) is another thought-provoking look at the world through the eyes of Pete, a pastor at Cross Point Church in Tennessee.  He uses video clips and other resources really well, and has got a massive readership judging by the average number of comments each post seems to get.  It is also one of the blogs I read that reminds me that there is a cultural difference between our two countries, which I really enjoy being exposed to.
  6. New Life From Old is the blog of another small group friend.  He doesn’t post too often, but always has something worth checking out.  He’s a scientist and is rigorous in his examination of faith through this lens.  He’s really creative in how he works this out in his life and the world (although I don’t think he’d use that word about himself), and deserves massive respect for his engagement with difficult and controversial issues.
  7. Last but not least I’ve just got to mention Wish Jar,which is the blog of author, illustrator and guerilla artist Keri Smith.  I LOVE her work, and every time I read her blog I get exposed to something I’ve never come across before.

I hope you enjoy checking these guys out if you’ve not had a look before.  (By the way sorry about the weird mix of fonts and sizes, can’t seem to fix it today for some reason.  Hope it’s still readable)

I came across this today in my sick-bed internet wanderings (This is my third mini-post today, can you tell I’m getting bored of being unwell?!).  I had heard of Galgael before, and although I’m still exploring what they are about, I’m really drawn to the work they do, the life they lead in Govan.  This little Youtube clip gives a flavour.

There’s a real model of community, of shared life and the sharing of hope, the restoration of dignity and the practical sharing of skills.  We need visionary people, like Colin MacLeod,the man who started up Galgael, so much in our world, and we also need generous-hearted people like those who joined with him to share and to realise the vision.

Apparently marriage is on the way out.  I heard this on Monday, on a BBC Radio 4 programme called, “What is a wife?”.

It was a thought-provoking programme, but I also found it mildly infuriating.  The idea of ‘wifeliness’ was looked at, and I have to say it’s not an attractive term and it has little relevance – and few examples- in today’s world for women in the UK.  It has such connotations of domestic subservience, and I can’t find a positive way in which to view it.  However, the actual reality of women in the UK getting married in the first place is itself in decline.  They reckon that by 2011 less than half of the adult population will be married. 

It was interesting to hear women who had, with the rise of feminism in the late 60s and 70s, taken the view that to become married was to tie themself unequally to a man, to take a position of second place that suggested a trade-off.  “You give me money and security and I’ll give you a nice home and food on the table (whilst giving up my right to independent thought and living)”.  To them feminism meant that marriage was out of the question as an aspiration, and irrelevant to the new ideals of modern womanhood. 

I struggled to recognise how they painted marriage though.  I have always assumed that marriage is a statement of faith in and commitment to each other, as opposed to a simple definition of roles.  “Husband” does not, for me, mean provider and dominant decision-maker.  It just means the man I love and have committed to share a life with.  “Wife” similarly does not mean home-maker or dominant child-rearer.  It means I am sharing a life with the man I love.

But for many people today marriage is viewed as simply unnecessary.  There is now no shame in a couple living together in our society.  There is no longer a stigma attached to children ‘born out of wed-lock” (how long since anyone spoke about that?!).  But I have to say I still believe in marriage.  I love being so committed to this one man, and I value the security that I get from knowing we have made vows of equal and equally significant commitment to each other.

These days those few people who do choose to get married (I have friends who are wedding photographers, and don’t get the impression that they have a shortage of business, so maybe ‘few’ is not quite right) face the added likelihood that their marriage may not last.  Marriage rates are falling and divorce rates are rising. 

But this weekend my parents are celebrating their 4oth wedding anniversary.  My dad was actually married once before, but this marriage, the one I was born into is the one he has spent most of his adult life in.  That’s some achievement.  So I’d like to celebrate marriage, celebrate commitment and celebrate the wonderful thing it can be to share a life with someone.

Several years ago a friend lent me the book “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy (which, incidentally, I enjoyed) and when we later spoke about it one of us, I can’t remember which now, mistakenly called it “The Small Things of God”.  This slightly more whimsical title appealled to both of us immediately and, amidst laughter, the book was instantly renamed for evermore.

It’s still a phrase that comes to mind often, despite the fact that I’ve lost touch with that friend over the years.  (She lives in India now, I wonder if she ever remembers the book and our conversations about it?)

I was just looking at the blog of Without Wax and his reflections on “Celebrating Monotony”.  It strikes me that the small things of God are those mundane little blessings we overlook so easily.  I am seated in my warm kitchen, cup of tea at hand, almost brand new laptop beneath my fingertips, knowing that my daughter is sound asleep in her lovely bedroom down the hall, and my husband is blogging away on our pc upstairs.  It’s a Friday night in Scotland in January, nothing much going on, and I’m freshly thankful for that.  I wonder how many of the minute details of our lives, embroidered by God to communicate his love and care for us, pass us by without thought or thanks. 

(I read this back and consider that this is a very middle-class (yikes!) western-world kind of reflection.  I wonder what I would have said if I were a Christian living in poverty in a much harsher part of the world?)

I suppose the small things of God, the little blessings and graces he has furnished our world with to ease our passage through it, are in evidence everywhere.  It would be a wonderful thing if I could make my way through life bearing that in mind, with a thankful heart.

What are the small things of God in evidence in your life?

Last week my work colleagues and I were privileged to receive some excellent training to give us an overview into autism as a spectrum.  It was provided by the Lothian Autistic Society and I can really recommend their training if anyone else is interested.

It was fascinating, at the start of the session, to hear across the full staff team that attended what experience and knowledge each of us had about autism.  I was fairly typical – I’ve worked at times with children who use our services who have autism (usually with Aspergers), I’ve sat in on a previous mini-training session when I was on placement as a student, I’ve read a couple of fantastic books.  And whilst none of my colleagues are approaching any kind of specialist knowledge, we all had a good broad base of understanding – but just didn’t feel like we did.

And that seems to be the funny thing about autism.  It seems so ‘other’ that we don’t feel comfortable with ourselves and our competence when we are with people who are placed somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

Anyway, the training was outstanding and across the board I didn’t hear a single colleague (some of whom are normally default-setting-critical!) say it was any less than excellent and riveting.  What did I learn?  Essentially that autism is a brain difference, which results in the person with the condition responding to and interacting with the world in ways which are so different to us NTs (neurotypicals) it is really hard for us to understand the world from their point of view, and vice versa.

Simon Baron-Cohen (who, slightly bizarrely, is according to Wikipedia a cousin of Sasha Baron-Cohen aka Ali G and Borat) is one of the pre-eminent scientists in the field of autism and has led the way with much of the current thinking about the condition, from what I can gather.  One of the most interesting aspects of autism is that it would appear to be the working out of an ‘extreme male brain’.  This has been identified as being because autism seems to arise from an extreme level of testosterone present in a child even before birth.  This is, presumably, why autism is so much more common among males than females.

This has brought autism into the news as it now appears quite possible for there soon to be a prenatal screening test for autism, following on from the publication of a ground-breaking study in the British Journal of Psychology (as it has been described by The Guardian amongst others).  And the big, controversial question which has now sparked a great deal of debate is “would a prenatal screening test for autism be a good thing?”.  The underlying assumption is that parents who discovered their unborn child had autism (although the test would not be able to place them on the autistic spectrum, just give a blunt identification of the condition) would be likely to choose to abort that child. 

I think that would be an understandable choice (I’ve not worked with autistic children who can’t communicate, as they tend not to be in mainstream settings like the one I work in, but have witnessed the enormous challenge and stress families can face when they have a child somewhere on the autistic spectrum).  But the assumption is that autism is something ‘bad’, undesirable in itself.  Most autistic people are physically healthy, and it is believed that in fact it is the more able autists who will suffer through their condition, simply because they are able to interact with the neurotypical world enough to perceive and struggle with their difference to the world at large.  It gets very complicated, and Professor Baron-Cohen articulates the thinking that needs to begin now:

If there was a prenatal test for autism, would this be desirable?  What would we lose if children with autistic spectrum disorder were eliminated from the population?  We should start debating this…Some researchers or drug companies might see this as an opportunity to develop a prenatal treatment.  There are drugs that block testosterone.  But whether we’d want to would be a different matter.

If you want to read more about autism I can thoroughly recommend “Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers Syndrome” by Luke Jackson, which he wrote when he was just 13 – it’s outstanding, insightful and very sweet.  The other book I read a few years back was “George and Sam” by Charlotte Moore, and it too is outstanding, very intelligently and (just as important) intelligibly written. 

I’d love to hear your own thoughts about this debate.

Well today (like many days in my life, it seems) I’m sick.  I think I’ve caught the bug my daughter was so poorly with last week.  After feeling a bit odd at various points yesterday and managing to dismiss them as the outworkings of a busy weekend and not enough sleep, I spent last night feeling increasingly yuck and then trying and failing to get myself functioning this morning. 

As is the way with these things, I find it’s often when I need the most sleep that I get the least.  So during my sleepless hours last night when I awoke feeling unwell I found myself ruminating on the kind of random tangents that the 2ams are so well known for.

One of the random tangents came from a conversation we’d had with a minister friend of ours who was round with his fantastic family on Saturday afternoon.  We’d been joking about my increasing interest in the idea of communal living and how this works itself out in communities we’ve come across.  After considering the areas we’d find most challenging about communal living (pretty much all of it) our friend said that they had approached it from the other direction and basically let people know they had an open house for anyone, whenever.  I wondered if this was an expectation of their role in the church he leads, but apparently not – so many of his congregation had never been inside the church manse until he took up post.  Marla has also spoken in various places on her (fantastic) blog about having doors open to whoever needs them.

As I lay tossing and turning in bed, head and body aching, mind whirring, I began to wonder how I would find communal living, or living with ‘open doors’ when, like today, I was unwell.

Would it be great to know that if I needed something there would likely be someone around to help me out?  Or would I struggle with feeling my space was restricted, that Iwould need to make conversation when I just wanted to lie or sit quietly?  And in terms of reciprocity would I be willing to go into someone else’s house when they were sick and be there for them? I would, but being the over-empathiser that I am, I tend to imagine others share the same feelings as me and wouldn’t welcome my presence.

I am full of admiration for those who open their homes to the world, and can see that actually the physical act of letting someone in the door is not always the big deal.  It’s the opening and sharing of lives which follows which is the real challenge, the real joy and the real act of servanthood and love.

I haven’t made any resolutions this year.  But this area is something I am challenged by and challenged into doing and not merely thinking about.  I intend to work on it this year.  I suspect it will be a lifelong project

The week I wanted?

  • An optimistic and motivated return to work after the Christmas break
  • A return to the security of routine, with a reluctant farewell to the freedom of holidays
  • A well- paced week, with each day a pleasant balance of rewarding work, refreshing sleep, delightful family time and blessed time with others
  • A week where I can enjoy my change from 5 day a week full-timer status at work, to 4 day a week part-timer status, by just enjoying spending time with my daughter on our shared day off mid-week
  • A week where I look around my home and feel the small pleasures of successful domesticity as I observe the well-ordered home we have achieved as we make the most of our refreshing break by spending a little time each evening tidying and putting away.

The week I got?

  • A week of slightly random work events, bubble-wrapped in the back to work torpor that I had forgotten always surrounds this returning week after Christmas
  • A week of frantically juggling a sick daughter with trying (and mostly failing) to get to work on time
  • A week of wakeful nights as our daughter became sicker as the week progressed, and the eventual pleasure today of seeing her well enough to go to nursery and now to have her finally sleeping well
  • A week of enormous delight in the company of others, from work colleagues, to my family, to our extended ‘small group family’ despite encroaching exhaustion and apparently terminal frustration
  • A week of observing our home fall into further chaos as we lack the time and energy to tidy up – until tonight

Overall, and all things considered, it was a pretty good week!  However, it should be noted that I am saying this tonight, as bedtime draws near, my daughter is (currently, and surprisingly, given the last 5 days) sleeping peacefully and a weekend of leisure and time with great friends beckons.

Have a great weekend too.  Sleep well!

I’ve been doing some more thinking about living and loving in a small group.  Our church has long had house groups or bible study groups, but the last couple of years has upped the ante in this area and our large and growing church really encourages everyone to ‘do life’ with others in a small group setting.  I suppose I see it as a kind of micro-church, one that can fit around a table and let everyone share in the same conversation. 

We’ve had a small group in our home for the last couple of years, which we host and lead – but my husband does the real leading (I think I’m more of a backseat driver). We’ve been doing some reflecting on what it means, or what it might mean, to be a small group leader, and thinking about how well we do this and how we might do better.  Then I found this list and thought it was helpful as a yardstick.  Would be interested to hear what others think too though.  What should a small group leader do?

10 GREAT WAYS TO CARE FOR YOUR GROUP MEMBERS

10. Pray for your group members each morning.
9. Meet a group member for coffee.
8. Invite the group over for dinner.
7. Send a note of encouragement.
6. Ask questions.
5. Celebrate with them, literally…birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
4. Notice when they’re absent.
3. Make ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ the most important part of your interactions.
2. Call them out…challenge them in areas where they need to change.
1. Get them serving others.

It’s perhaps notable that it doesn’t say anything about bible study, theological understanding or being a gifted speaker.  It does, however, offer a strong model of leading by serving, amongst other things.  It’s not rocket science, to coin a phrase, but it is practical.

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