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. 

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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.