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.

    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

      

    Always Stop and Remove the Stones

    Running by the sea is one of the best things about living on the coast. Every time your out the landscape is completely different. Not only are legs engaged, but mind, emotions and soul are revitalised by the ever changing vista. The downside of all this beauty is all the stones and grit that you can collect in your shoes. Most of the time it is not an issue but occasionally the smallest fragment makes it to a place of irritation.

    As I ran yesterday that is exactly what happened. It had been a perfect day, sun bright, but not too hot. Yet with waves crashing on the incoming tide. The sunlight through the breaking waves was magical, as if each one for a moment had been frozen in liquid metal. The glory of the day and the fact that I was running on yesterdays legs meant that I ignored the fragment of gravel that was working its way round to my heal. I must have picked it up on the promenade from the sand thrown up in last weeks storm. Six miles later as I pushed on, trying to keep my pace, I knew I had made a simple error.

    Every time I come back from a run, or any activity, I want to know what I could have done differently. While I am no reader, I am an avid learner. The lesson from that day was simple, “always stop and remove the stones”.

    The same is true in life. We put up with so many minor irritation’s. Maybe not aware of the damage being caused down the line. We get used to second screens and overtime, minor ailments in our bodies that with a little focus will not need surgery. We put up with unresolved conflicts that with time to listen could be stopped from becoming a marriage break down.  Simply taking time to stop and reflect on the stones of life that have begun to cause us irritation might mean that we choose to remove them.

    As in life so in leadership. So often we see the problem clearly. But we are going at such a pace that we don’t want to stop and deal with the issue. Anyway, if we did it might cause someone to get upset, that unwritten rule of pastoral leadership, “no one is allowed to be unhappy”. What is now a minor irritant will in the future be the blister that causes enough pain to stop us in our tracks. I hope I can become more sensitive to the grit when running and attentive to the issues in life and leadership. Note to self: always stop and remove the stone.

    Dear David

    Dear David,

    Thanks so much for getting back in touch with me today. I must say it has been a while, about five years I think. I was so pleased to have a personal letter through my door from you because there is so much I would like to talk with you about and so much that you have a duty as leader to address. However….

    I was a bit disappointed that you spent most (97%) of your letter talking about your “dreadful” colleagues and “awful” possible future colleagues. In fact it was as if you did not have anything of any substance to say at all! At one point you made what sounded like a promise, I was listening… “that one of the other parties would bankrupt the country.” How do you know this with such certainty, please write back and let me know? Otherwise it just sounds like you are in a bit of a panic. 
    Then after a whole side of a4 you signed off. You had said nothing about what you would do. You made no apology for deep and wounding cuts in local government funding. You just wasted an entire letter putting everyone else down. Do you talk about everyone like this? If you do I don’t expect anyone will want to work with you again. Maybe you are just feeling a bit cross, try talking to someone, it might help. 
    But then at the end of your letter a PS. Great I thought, maybe an invitation for feedback or a real promise. But no, you’re just asking me to vote for you by saying something trite about job creation…. On this occasion I think I will pass. Perhaps if you write back with some substance rather than just slagging, then I might change my mind. Do write again, just try not to leave it so long next time. 
    By the way, thanks for running the country for the last few years. I am not joking, it’s a really tough job and someone has to do it. I don’t agree with large chunks of what you have done, but I am still grateful that you have taken the time to be a leader. Whatever happens this week please do one thing for me…. Remember to keep on taking holidays and time off, it is so key as a leader to get proper rest and don’t listen to the press or anyone else who tells you otherwise. Enough for now and hope to see you at the beach more often.
    yours sincerely
    Mark