What I Think About When I Run

People often ask what i think about when i am running. It is often closely followed by, “don’t you get really bored”. I am a thinker, a prayer and a dyslexic. Often my thinking and praying get stuck. But when I run, everthing clears again. So i thought I might just jot down some of the things I think and pray about when I run… “what I think about when I run”.

10k, 44:41(PB), Sunday evening.

    • Is today a PB for my 10k.
    • The man who drowned in the harbour.
    • Prayed for LB as I have not seen her in church for ages.
    • J who said this week he “experienced” the bible for the first time.
    • Vision is like running, big plans but still only happens one step at a time.
    • Torquay homeless.
    • Turning the church into a shelter and set of business units.
    • Electronic filing (yes dull).
    • Sleepy Torquay.
    • Churches working together, reminded of the three streams picture.

    Sweet Jane’s Pain

    “Don’t do heroin!” It’s not what I normally say to my kids at the end of the day. But it has been one of those days. What I really want to scream at them is something like; “DO NOT take ANY drugs, not even a puff or a pill. If you have stuff, talk with someone, anyone, I’ll pay if you can’t talk to me. But DON’T you ever take drugs otherwise you will end up like her, like the living dead.”

    But all I can manage is a weary, “Don’t do heroin!” It’s been a long day and I am sure my screaming would not help. They look at me strangely. People do what they do. We are all free to choose our path. For some that path leads directly from freedom to a living death.

    We parked up at church, young kids in the car, I was just popping in to collect my fancy (vicar) dress for the following days formalities. A strange thing the church. God stepped into the neighbourhood and became human with nothing to his name. Yet we think that adding a few thousand complicated words, expensive robes and brass finery will point to the king born with nothing. Here is a system that’s not working – too much straw in too many bricks, but we’ll come back to that.

    Stepping out of the car there is a huddle of teenagers staring round the back of the church. With them a local business owner. All frozen by the sight of someone slumped over their legs. Drug gear littered all around. Clearing up is on my mind, but definitely not on theirs. What are you suppose to do with this? So they just stare.

    As I walk over I see the sharps in between her legs, skirt pulled up. She has been injecting in places I don’t want to see. I do the usual checks, there are no more visible needles but I will not want to be crawling around on this bit of grass tonight. Trying to wake her takes time, she is alive, but death is clearly flowing through her veins. I don’t mean that she is going to die tonight, but simply that her blood is thick with her freedom choice and it is slowly killing her.

    The teenagers have seen enough to be filled with concern and fear. I hope it is enough to keep some of them safe from chasing a high, but I expect they will forget once the pills are passed. I send them away without a word. The business guy looks tired, he has his own stuff to deal with, so I send him on his way too.

    Back to this slumped pile of rags wondering what time it is? Ambulance or safety somewhere. Anything except being left rotting behind the church.

    Finally, I get a response. Her head raises before slumping back this time almost face planting the grass. “Could I be? No please.” I think to myself.

    Out loud I call here name, “Jane (not her real name), Jane, it’s Mark.” I really don’t want it to be her. Just a few months ago she was clean, we had chatted about curtains, she had never had curtains before. How crazy is that, she was full of joy because of a pair of curtains. They were not even real ones, they were made of a couple of old shower curtains.

    But it is her.

    Sweet Jane.

    Veins pumped full of death. Jesus was so right when he said that the “thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.” The thief has got Jane firmly in his grasp.

    A call to the hostel and yes they will take her back in. I struggle to get her back on her feet. Rescue her few things, a bag, a ring and two kids lollies. Even in her stumbling, she insists on putting one in her mouth, so wasted that she does not even take the wrapper off.

    My heart breaks for her. There is just a hurting person, a child who needs healing stuck in there somewhere.

    The walk to the hostel is only a few hundred meters but it takes an age. People stare, Jane walks a few steps forward and quite a few back. Although we nearly land headlong on the tarmac no one offers to help.

    Bad dad moment. The walk is taking a long time and I have left my kids in the car. Sometimes the right thing comes with difficult choices.

    Once inside I am greeted by some familiar faces and some new staff. The hostel the residence are not shocked like on the streets. They have seen this a thousand times before. But that does not stop them pursuing the same path.

    On the way up to her room, both Jane and I misjudge the door and so with a bloody head she falls again to the floor. My fault and in this crazy world I guess I could get sued. Jane sobs like a baby, she just wants her bed. With the blood flowing down her face, she bites tightly onto her lolly.

    One on each side we manoeuvre Jane to her room.

    What happened to the joy of curtains? Where did that droplet of pride go?

    Her room is thick with chaos. The bed, floor and even out of the door covered with clothes, rubbish and the destruction of this life that is being held captive. This unit is under-resourced from central government cuts and short-sighted local councillors spend choices. But still, the system should work. No one should live like this, especially not in a structure that is supposed to be helping.

    We should not be surprised. When people get told to make bricks with less straw, the structures you craft will just come tumbling down at the slightest storm. Austerity is not to blame for Jane’s choice but it is helping to tear her apart. The poor and broken hearted will not be ethnically cleansed from our communities with budget cuts as some may wish, instead, they need to be healed and raised up. Then they will play their part in rebuilding.

    Just a few months ago things had been so different. Even before the hostel took here in she has been building relationships and connecting with people. She had even spoken on a video we made, to celebrate five years of our community cafe. Voice cracking as she shared the depth of what if meant to be included in this church family. Her word? “Humble.” But the truth is that we are the ones who are humbled because she had at that time the grit to be in the room.

    That night that I took her home became the final spiral down. Now she is out of her room, back on the streets. Grimy possessions over spilling the sides of a child’s pushchair. You will see her pushing her chaos around town, slumped on street corners, passed by, dismissed, excluded. High but not happy, medicated but not healing. Put out of her room because we could not cope. We leave her like this because she has the mental capacity to choose. That seems so wrong. Jane is an addict, she is not in control rather she is being controlled by the demons of the past and the pain of the present.

    There must be a better way.

    Jane sleeps slumped by that pushchair. I wonder what it really carries? What pains does she push round each day? Could she ever let them go, leave all those self-destructive thoughts behind, find healing for  the pain that torments her?

    There are people in our community who have known Jane for over twenty years. Some of them also used to sleep slumped over their attempts to cover the pain. They are finding healing and freedom and I believe Jane can too. Perhaps all we can do is wait for her as she cycles through the straw-less system again. As we wait we keep on loving her with a love that is patient, and kind. A love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. This kind of love never fails.

    Mind Trips

    Some days I am overwhelmed by how amazing life can be. Yet in the very same moment how I can be underwhelmed by the frailty my own thinking. 

    The reminder came on the back of a really good week. We changed the Sunday worship structure; finally. Got all the kids back to school; just getting to the end of the day sometimes feels like an achievement. Saw my eldest in an open air play that he has been rehearsing for months; proud Dad moment. Enjoyed good food in excellent company. Joined a strange ceremony when the first full time curate (Trainee Vicar) for St Mags since 1978 was ordained at Exeter Cathedral; happy vicar moment. (We even managed an amusing Neo/Matrix Vicar pics.) Then day one with new curate, including deep conversation and spontaneous prayer on the street. Life and work is good, so what would possibly go wrong? Just a phone call and an old mind trip.

    Have you ever tried to phone a big company but talk with a specific team. All is fine unless the team concerned are not customer facing, have closed your case and even making a formal compliant does not get you a call back. But to understand the depth of my frustration you need to understand that I am dyslexic. 

    My other half says that I even have car park dyslexic. Most of you will not understand the issue, but it is a massive problem. There I am zipping down the motorway and all is well, then I turn off to the services and suddenly I have no idea which way to go. The signs and arrows may as well be in a Japanese. I have no idea where I am an most of the family have to give me directions. Five back seat drivers is just what you need when you’re feeling directionless.

    But the problem also translates to sort codes. Getting the account number right for a bank transfer is easy, cut, paste, job done. But the sort code is more difficult. You can only put in two digits at a time, so cut and paste seems a waste. But when I type the numbers, I read what I think I have written. (Like anything I publish it is prone to errors.) If I have made an error I don’t see it. Info entered, check by one of the kids (no guilt needed) transfer done….. £700 sent to the wrong account.

    I honestly don’t have that kind of money to make an error with, but the frustration comes not with the thought of having messed up, or even having lost a large sum of money but with what happens next.

    A few years ago the legislation got changed around faster payments (instant inter bank transfers) in order to protect customers like me. The deal is this, the bank makes a mistake you get the money back, you make a mistake and the bank will help your get the money back. What is more, is there is the protection of the law. If you receive a payment in error into your account then you are legally obliged to return it….. Except that in this case, my bank will not help (Santander), the receiving bank will not help (Barclays) and I found out today that the is no money left in the receivers account anyway. He has spend the flipping lot! No, he has spend money that was intended for a holiday and now I could use to spend on school uniforms and food…..

    But is gets worse. I have in fact received a little money back, £35.15. I have even had a letter from Santander telling me so and detailing the case number. So I follow the instructions on the bottom of the letter and give them a call to find out what is going on.

    The bloke who answers is helpful enough, but can he put me though to the right team? Getting to speak to his manger was easy. Manager one is friendly but clearly knows nothing, so I pressed for her manager, this is a bit more difficult. We get there after some sharp words. Manager level two is highly trained in shutting customers down but now I am on a roll and demand to speak to the team who wrote to me. He makes a school boy error and gives me flannel about the issues I am facing, trying to tell me definitively what has happen. I know he can’t do this and he is making it up. So I press in and finally speak to “Em”’ the manager of managers managers. It is clear that this is a far as I am going to get today. How can you tell? Because this one of not afraid of the silence. Em is not going to hang up, or give me what I want or lose his cool. But then it happens. The mind trip. 

    Suddenly I am in front of my bank manger as a student. He is telling me that they are withdrawing their banking services and I will have to repay my student overdraft with in the week. Power shifts, and the mind causes me to stumble. Extreme frustration over my error and a corporate system designed for profit rather than customer satisfaction connects with events from over twenty years ago. My mind trips out.

    I sat. I journaled. I read internet tech news. I help my youngest with 11+ prep. I walked the dogs. I eat good food. I prayed. I tried. But my mind got me, tripped me up, took me back to being that young man in the bank and I was overwhelmed.

    A few hours later and I am at peace again. Sure of who I am, comfortable with my failings and resigned to my error. But also reminded that I (as I’m sure are you) am never far away from the my old mind trips. So tonight I pray, more than ever that I would be transformed by the renewing of my mind. That my loving Heavenly Father would heal and shape my thinking so that I can live in wonder of who he is and what his is doing. 

    Experts in nothing

    Expert?An expert: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.

    We live in a world of experts, for finance, education, medicine and just about every profession imaginable. Except one. Christian leadership, or more specifically, the role of the priest in the wider community.

    It dawned on me this week while I was on a brilliant training course. In passing our tutor said, “you are not the experts”. She was speaking to a room full of priests. She did not mean that we were experts in nothing, but simply that we were experts in nothing that mattered in relation to our current topic of study. But the lights came on. As far as our culture is concerned priests are now experts in nothing.

    It used to be that priests led the way. We were at the forefront of education, scientific research, welfare, art and even politics. The broad structures and influences of our culture were shaped by christian leaders, even priests. We were integral in developing a more reasoned and just society.

    Somewhere we stumbled and now find ourselves on the back foot. No longer are we supposed to have a voice in politics, we are to be quiet on the ethical developments in science and medicine. We have to speak carefully in education and our schools treat us with suspicion. Instead of being at the cutting edge of care we are often cut out because our motives are questioned. Yet the volunteer network of everyday christians fill that gap left by governments on the front line.

    The training for a priest can take up to seven years. We are trained in public speaking, care for the dying, building maintenance, team dynamics, exegesis, policies, history and even recruitment. Most of us will have continued to develop professionally. For me this has included experience in safeguarding, addictions, visual thinking and organisational change. We are not suppose to know everything but we are a resource to our communities whether they come to church or not.

    We are experts, but experts in nothing that matters. Our specialist skills no longer valued by culture. Yet we unknowingly ponder if it is time to hand over the final set of keys. We are potentially on the cusp of surrendering our understanding and expertise in scripture to the mute god’s of this world.

    This though is a culture with a sick heart. Already it is short of breath and stumbling. Unable to think clearly, unable to care beyond itself. A culture that has stopped looking out for those who can’t care for themselves. It has begun the retreat back to the safety of the castle in the vain hope that we will have stored enough for the coming winter.

    Doing things our own way brings short term stimulation but in the longer term our newly defined identities will be found to be as fragile and shallow as party politics. The foundations of our culture have been sacrificed on the altar of self satisfaction. Yet this torn out core is the very field that we priests can, if we have courage, rightly claim our expertise.

    It turns out that we are not experts in nothing as our culture would have us believe. But instead in everything that matters. We hold on to meaning, identity, quality of life, care for others and even our world. We do these things because we have a narrative that defines us beyond our age. That roots us in our creative loving God who is for us. He teaches us to be selfless rather than selfish. That our identity is not something that we can self define but is defined in relationship with him. That life has meaning beyond matter and that meaning matters.

    For today our expertise may not be recognised.
    As our culture crumbles this is definitely not the day to hand over our remaining expertise. We have a message to bring, long abandoned and misunderstood but one that stands the test of time. We may be experts in nothing but we are experts in all that matters.

    A Day in the life of a Vicar….

    Since my sabbatical in 2015 I have tried to live a work differently. Two full days off a week and a starting point of forty hours a week. One of the days off is creativity focused and the other just resting. I find this kind of pace means that I can be fully engaged in both my family life and working life. But I still often get asked, “so what do you vicars do during the week”. So I thought I would give a snapshot of what has be a busy day.
    5.45am I get woken up by our barking chocolate lab who has decide she wants a to go out. In my experience she should not be ignored other wise the consequences can be messy. I watch her in the garden and stare at the coffee machine. Expresso wins and so to work on the summer rota – yes I am a bit behind as it is July.

    7.30am Rota finished and emailed to the 25 people who will be helping to make Sunday’s happen over the summer. Few more emails sent to try and start the the day as clear as possible. Updated a new webpage that a number of the team are working on.

    7.45am Made tea for Meg and woke up the kids up late. Usual family prep for the day, all hands on deck.

    8.15am Bit of work on family accounts as trying to be better with budgeting.

    8.30am Running shoes on. We leave the house a bit late with one 10 year old on scooter and two dogs. School drop. 6.5 miles later and very tired dogs, my run it complete. Prayed for for a few other churches and leaders on the way (Ian – Rivera Life, John St Matthias) as well as stopping to talk to a couple of people from church on the way round.

    9.30 Finish getting ready for the day and called a company to chase delivery of new church doors.

    10am Time with two leaders at St Mags, looking at an outreach project and a way to review another key part of church life – small groups. Important leadership lessons on the way.

    11.30 (35 as I was late) Coffee in Neros with another key leader for supervision and coaching. Asked at iPhone repair shop if they could fix sons phone that was run over by a car yesterday.

    12.45pm Back to church to fix my dyslexic error on the poster for Sunday. Tried to find old keys for two doors at church – nope, they are lost.

    1.30pm Grabbed lunch and ensured backup happened on computer that is starting to run slow.

    2pm Funeral visit. What a privilege to hear the story of a couple who found love again in later life. These are sacred moments. Stayed an extra half hour as it was so precious.

    3.45pm To town to get iPhone fixed. On the way stop to chat to a friend of St Mags about the painful stuff of life. Spent five mins with a guy that is high and scared. Talked to a girl in her early twenties who has recently come to faith and is struggling to make drug free friends. Chatted in passing to one of the guys who was baptised last year and is busking. Back to phone…. First shop unhelpful, second sorted. Coffee and planning at Costa while they get it fixed. Pinging church administrator on Trello (who should not be responding to messages as she is not working this afternoon) re current projects, funeral, wedding and new church bank account. Also exchanging so texts and returning some calls from people growing in faith. Bumped into Meg and the kids. Back past church, someone is asleep round the side. Try to wake him up, he is off his face with his big dog on guard. He wakes eventually and we have a good chat. I leave him there as he is alive and does not seem to been in danger or a danger to others. Sleep is prob the best option.

    5pm Delivered fixed phone to son – he was sort of grateful (joy of being Dad)

    5.25pm Few more texts and asked one of the Mags team to take the lead tomorrow night.

    5.30pm Drove to Exeter for a meeting on a difficult subject but in very good company. Amazingly I am ten mins early. Just about managed to behave with three Bishops and an Archdeacon in the room. Good food and then heavy focused conversation. Finish at 8.45, very drained but it was healthy and life giving.

    9.30 Back in Torquay, few texts and emails. Called Mum and Dad to check they are alright – they are carrying so big stuff very graciously.

    10pm Sofa and decide to write day in life of a Vicar – Gin and Tonic.

    Marathon Double, Brighton and London 2016

    At some point in the past this seemed like a good idea. But now I have to move from idea to reality. Bags are packed. Training done. Just got to complete 26.2 miles… twice in 8 days! But how did I get here?

    This will be my fourth and fifth marathons (2008/12/15). I had entered the ballot for the London Marathon 2016 but did not get in. Disappointed but still determined to run in 2016 I secured a place in the Brighton Marathon. A few weeks later I got the offer of running for Exeter Cathedral in the London Marathon. A choice needed to be made, which one to do? Then I had this idea. What if I did both. Brighton for The Living Room, the community Cafe that is run by St Mags (the Church I lead). London for Exeter Cathedral, the city that I grew up in the Mother Church for Devon. Double Marathon for churches old and new. So I said yes to both.

    Each person runs for different reason, for me it is often a way to process anger prayerfully. This is why I run. 

    The charities I am running for are very close to my heart.

    The Living Room is five years old this month. We give coffee, cake and bacon baps to anyone who needs it for no charge. We welcome in people from every walk of life and are seeing many people find faith and turn their lives around. It is also run by St Mags the church that I lead in Torquay.  

     

    The Living Room Chistmas dinner in a bap, 



    The Cathedral
    is the mother church for the place a work – Church of England in Devon. I grew up around this place, spend   far to many evenings the worst for wears on the green. But I was always engaging with conversations of faith and the presence of such a great building inspired me. It is over 900 years old and in need of a bit of TLC. The community is also deeply engage in caring for people the town centre and my Mum and Dad are also not part of this lively Christian community. 

     

    Me at the Cathedral with Dad on the day he became a Cathedral Canon

    You can support me in the following ways:

    1. Like this post (or comment) this will encourage me loads (yes this is an occasion to be that shallow)

    2. Donate to one of the causes below (you are a hero!)

    3. Donate to both of the causes below (you are a super hero and you have my permission to make a special costume and wear it in public just because you can!)

    Marathon one: Brighton 17th of April for The Living Room, the community cafe that is run in my church. We have 80-100 people in each day we open, give away the coffee and bacon baps and make no charge… https://my.give.net/thelivingroommarathon

    Marathon two: London 24th April for Exeter Cathedral. It has been open for over 900 years and with your help it will be there in another 900… http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=mark-searle-551d055939dbd2-84598541&pageUrl=3

    Thanks Loads, Mark

      

    Mud play days

        

    Arm deep in sticky mud, they shape yummy cakes and scary castles. The bright yellow, red and green of the tiny plastic wheel barrow are being splattered in fresh mud. It only seems to be a matter of time before the amount of mud in the barrow will equal that on clothes, faces and bare fore arms.

    Given simple raw materials, children will play. Their creativity unrestricted and unshaped by the need to colour in the lines. No need for each moment to be filled with the instance gratification of reward driven games.

    I long for those days of innocence again. Wishing I could send my children back to that wonderful place where success is measured by clothes in the washing pile rather than new clothes failing to make them look like the air brushed model.

    Life has become complicated and painful.

    In the Industrial Age they believed that factory’s could mechanise work for good. But it simply robbed us of the satisfaction of hands on work and craftsmanship. In the fifties they thought the we would all have more leisure time as robots and machines served us. But they did not realise that we would just have to keep working harder and harder to afford those luxuries.

    Progress always comes with a shadow.

    The progress in this generation has been exponential. Yet still the shadows have surprised us. Our electronic communication allows us to connect instantly across the globe from a slither of tech in our pockets. But words in a email rarely transmit the subtle tones of human conversation. Social networks held the promise that we would never be alone. But living our lives on the back of other people’s newsfeeds, means we are more alone that ever. Passing likes are not a reflection of loving, lifegiving connections.

    The dopamine fix means our phone twitch and even cause us to imagine the subtle vibrations on a latest notification. We are unknowing addicts on an intravenous drip loaded with the unremarkable glossed lives of other nobodies. 

    Each day bombarded with news, gossip and images. We were suppose to care more, to connect more deeply and have our creativity fired up. But in reality we become numb to the hardships of others, fascinated by the failure of our neighbours and our imaginations manipulated by a thousand fake photos. Tomorrows fix will need to be stronger. 

    I wish I had seen the shadow side of our always on age. I wish I had listened to my gut and protected my children from the tusunami of social information for longer. 

    I long for those innocent, uncomplicated days of mud pie creations in multi colour wheel barrows. But we can’t go back. 

     
    Over the last week one of the kids has been grounded and this has included an electronic grounding, no iPhone, Facebook or tumblr. Just space to think, read, converse and create. For tonight a request has even been put in for a campfire. The best bit… They love it and so do we.