Saturday, 11 December 2010

Priorities, Priorities

I seem to keep coming back to this one. No matter how much I hear about it and think about it, it still seems to come to mind and continues to need my very best thinking.
Watching Liar Liar with my kids this afternoon gave plenty of opportunities to talk to them about making time for what is important and keeping your promises. I want to be a great husband and father. These two roles/relationships are of paramount importance to me. I want to be a faithful and heartfelt follower of Jesus and that requires a lot of time as well, time that is a great pleasure to devote, but which does not come naturally or easily amidst a hectic life.
I love films and want to watch and write about them a lot. I want/need regular exercise and I have a job which it is very important I do well, both as part of a dilligent work ethic and also so that I continue to receive a salary for supporting my family.
How should all of this be balanced? In an ideal world, I would not have to work, could spend the first few hours of the day in the secluded and loving company of God and then be with my wife and children the rest of the time. But it's not like that. I do have to work and I lack the application, dilligence, passion or whatever else to spend a few minutes alone with God in the morning, let alone several hours. The old cliche of "no-one ever wished on their death-bed that they had spent more time in the office" obviously applies, but I do have to work hard and do my very best, even if much of the time I'd rather not be there.
Much as I love films, being a good father and husband will take my very best efforts for the rest of my life and although a few films and a bit of film writing here and there are all well and good, my focus must be on these higher matters and I must invest in them. There is enjoyment and catharsis in writing about films and enjoying them on the big screen, but it doesn't come close to the joy of a loving, fulfilling relationship with my wife and kids. In fact, when those three key relationships are out of whack (God, Sal, kids), nothing else feels right, nothing else works and I feel no profound sense of peace.
So it comes down to priorities. Nothing wrong with going to the cinema, sitting down to a good film, writing about what I've seen, but I need to keep it in proportion. I cannot, must not, will not let anything get in the way of what I consider to be my core priorities and when I have those at the forefront of my mind, everything else that I love can be fitted into its rightful place and enjoyed as well.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Kids are bleeding hard work, I don't care who they are or who you are. They are tough.
I am greatly, richly blessed beyond words to have my children and I would not be without them for all the world, but they do my head in and therein lies an enduring contradiction.
My children have, in the space of only the past few days, hit my wife, gone to the shops on their own in their pyjamas while Sal was asleep, stolen from us, lied to us, been mean to each other, hidden our things in their rooms, made a mess of the walls, threatened other children and painted my bedroom door handle. Yet, I love them. Unfailingly, unconditionally, completely.
I WISH that they would do as they are told, stay in bed once I've tucked them in, honour and respect me and their mother, take care of their rooms and our house and generally do themselves justice, but I'm not going to stop loving them in the meantime.
I have to believe that they will turn out alright, that they fundamentally understand the difference between right and wrong and will get there in the end. I know we seek to instill godly values and virtues in them and confront and deal with errant behaviour rather than indulge it.
It helps me to reflect that God must feel the same way about me as I do about them. God must wish I would do myself a favour and honour him, living up to what I know he has for me. God must be constantly exasperated at how hard I make life for myself with all of my disobedience, laziness and failings. But he loves me anyway. Boy, does he love me. He loved me before he even made me and he saw everything I would ever do wrong before he decided to come to earth to die for me. And he went through all of that, knowing I would constantly reject him, fail him and fight him.
It can be and often tends to be a pretty thankless job being a parent. Our children can be so infuriating and yet I know that there are so many who have either lost their children, or whose children are suffering with serious illness, or who have been unable to have children, who would trade places with me in an instant and would scream at me to count my blessings and cherish every moment with them.
I don't think I'll cherish finding a staple gun under my daughter's bed, or having to replace a pane of glass in my back door, or wondering where I'll find the money for a new lounge carpet. But I do love my children. I cherish their smiles. I cherish the hugs I get when I come home from work, the time I spend reading to them and praying with them at bedtime. I cherish the smiles on their faces when they tuck into a home-made milkshake and their laughter when they parp in the bath.
I'll blog shortly on each of my gorgeous children, to remind myself of their lovely qualities. In the meantime, for every struggling parent out there, which at times is all of us, it will get better. Persevere and enjoy the glimmers. Cherish the moments and remember those rather than the image of your 4-year old trudging off in his slippers to cross a busy road for a bag of chocolate stars.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


I appreciate that is a somewhat stark title for a blog entry. It's amazing to consider the power of such a short and simple word. One word that breaks hearts, shatters lives, ruins hopes and dreams.
I was motivated and inspired to clean up my blog and use it for something more worthwhile as a result of following the entries of Craig McKay as he slowly lost his wife to ovarian cancer. More recently, I have followed with baited breath the twitter feed of Britt Merrick whose daughter Daisy was diagnosed with cancer some months ago and very recently was given a clean bill of health following a period of chemotherapy. Today I read with dismay that she is in hospital again, that another tumor has been found and that it is huge. Nevertheless, Britt Merrick found space in his 140 allotted characters to affirm his trust in Jesus. I have never met this man or his family and all I know of him is the little that filters through from his sermons (he is the main preaching pastor at Reality church in California) and his twitter and facebook feeds. It is amazing how technology gives us access to people and information that even a few years ago would not have been possible. I am so blessed to have been able to listen to and learn from Britt's sermons and I now have the privilege of being able to pray for him, Daisy and the rest of the family as they go through a trial I can scarcely imagine.
I know it is obvious, trite and simplistic to say so, but cancer is so horrible. My mother survived breast cancer a few years ago, as have two of my aunts more recently, a good friend of mine lost her leg to a large tumour wrapped around her pelvis, a former colleague of mine succumbed shockingly quickly to aggressive ovarian cancer. Now Daisy Merrick is facing more surgery, more chemotherapy, as is another church pastor Matt Chandler, from The Village in Texas. A couple of days ago Pete Smyth tweeted and blogged about a lump found on his neck which has turned out to be cancerous. He is facing several months of chemotherapy.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that these cases are any more tragic just because they are Christians, or young men, or children, or known to me. Cancer is always heart-breaking, always indiscriminate, always unfair. But it is interesting to see a number of recent cases befalling people who I only know about because 21st century connects us all so well. As impotent as I feel, at least I can pray for these people and even let them know that though they don't know me, they have touched my life and blessed me and I am praying for them.
I hate cancer. I hate seeing the havoc it wreaks and the lives it destroys. I hate seeing the children who have to grow up without a father or mother.
But I love the faith of men and women who look into the face of adversity, trust in their God and move forward with faith and hope. As Hebrews 11 says, the world is not worthy of them.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Saving Privare Ryan and the Pressure to live well

As the battle continues to rage around them, Captain Miller draws Private Ryan towards him and whispers to him, “you earn this”. Not “you earned” this, rather “you earn this”. Its impact is devastating, as we see all to clearly over fifty years later as a now considerably older Mr Ryan falls to his knees and asks his family through his tears, “have I lived a good life?”
You see, we can all feel under pressure to live well, whether because we feel it is expected of us, because we are self-motivated or because we have loaded ourselves up with guilt in relation to what somebody else has done for us. We look back at the decisions we have made and how we have lived and wonder whether we have made the most of what was given to us.
Certainly we ought to live well. God considered us sufficiently worthwhile to give the life of his only son so that we could become part of his family. That value that God has placed on us and stated us to have should motivate us to make the most of the days allotted to us. We should see ourselves as precious and significant and we should live our lives in a way that reflects a self-view in those terms. What is more, God has commanded us to live a life worthy of our calling. This should mean that we recognise that we live on earth with a purpose and that in gratitude for all that God has done for us, we live so as to glorify Him and show Him to those we meet.
In order to avoid the paralysing self-analysis and potential self-recrimination that afflicted Mr Ryan (and which afflicts me during my more self-indulgently reflective periods) it is essential to recognise that there is a world of difference between reflecting on and then being grateful for what God has done and instead attempting to live our lives so as to try to earn what God has done. The former is an obvious and inevitable consequence of believing that Jesus gave his life in my place. The latter is an exhausting and ultimately fruitless attempt at self-justification. Jesus has not offered you the free gift of salvation so that you can then regress to attempting to earn it by the quality of your life, your obedience, your giving, your generosity. The Bible describes all of our righteous acts as filthy rags. That is the best your attempts to “earn this” are going get – filthy rags. Instead, sit back and recognise what God has done for you. Humbly receive it, thank God for His mercy and then get up and live your life well as an offering of thanksgiving to a graceful, merciful God.

Raiders of the Lost Ark & The Tiredness of Life

Indiana Jones is talking with Marion Ravenwood and a comment is made about how tired he feels and how old he is. “It’s not the years”, he says, “it’s the mileage”. How often it feels like that for us.
Preachers often talk about how the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint, as if that were likely to encourage us. Why would 26 miles 385 yards feel more encouraging than 100 metres? I do not deny the truth of what has been said to us countless times from the pulpit or in “pastoral” conversations, however anyone will tell you that there are ways of saying things and ways of saying things.
I guess the words of Doctor Jones reflect how one would assess the likely longevity of a car. How many miles it’s done will be far more pertinent than how old it is. For us, it sometimes feels that we have grown weary in our Christian walk not so much because of how long we have been walking, but rather because in the course of walking we have been applying so much effort, straining to be better, harder working, holier, more humble, more patient, more forgiving. For me, “mileage” conjures up images not of having been a Christian for many years but rather of having spent those years striving and struggling, fighting and fussing, dithering and doubting.
It is not meant to be thus. God never intended for us to be worn out by our lives. On the contrary, the Christian life is offered to us an alternative to burdensome load of life without God. “Come to me all you are weary and heavily burdened and you will find rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart…for my yolk is easy and my burden is light”. Does that sound like hard work? Does that sound like a lot of effort? A marathon? Lots of mileage? Does it?
If your life as a Christian has begun to feel like a lot of hard work, like a lot of mileage, if it has felt that way for as long as you can remember, then something is badly wrong. This is not the life that God has called you to or saved you for. We undoubtedly work for God and try to live a life pleasing to Him, but always in his strength. Every breath we take and every step we make (I think I can hear The Police in the background) is for Him, but through Him as well. We ask Him what he would have us do, how we should spend our time and energy. The we ask Him for the strength, time and energy for what He would have us do and the humility to acknowledge that everything comes from Him and all of the glory and praise goes back to Him. That’s how God meant it to be – a vigorous, active, busy life, but never exhausting. A marathon in distance perhaps, but through Him we should arrive at the finish line full of strength, not crawling on our hands and knees (see my attempts to run the Windsor Half-Marathon for a helpful illustration of the distinction).

Monday, 5 July 2010


I have realised, in discussing this very subject with some lovely friends, that I do not have an especially pioneering, adventurous spirit. My lovely wife, Sal, is the adventurous type, always looking for the next exciting thing. I tend to be more routine-driven, stick with what I know, keep ticking along. Sounds hideously dull doesn't it?
I don't want life to be boring or tedious. I want to have fun and excitement, I'm just not sure how many surprises I have an appetite for. Surprises can be lovely (my wife presenting me with a surround sound system a few Christmasses ago, or throwing me a surprise birthday party) or unpleasant (the £600 service for the car back in April springs to mind, or the discovery that I was to be made redundant back in 2009) and maybe the occasions on which the surprise has been unpleasant have spoilt my appetite for them altogether. Maybe I have lost some of my appetite for adventure because I don't know what will happen and I would rather stick with what is predictable.
At this point I think I'm going to get a little "deeper" and consider something I often discuss with men and especially those who are facing difficult "should I press ahead into the unknown" type decisions. Dr Larry Crabb has written a number of books on Christian counselling and is himself a PhD psychologist. One of his books is called "Be Strong, Be Courageous" and is sub-titled "God's call to Men". It is hardly unique in being a book about what it means to be a man and what God has for and wants from men, however it does avoid suggesting that the most suitable path is to find the nearest wild boar and wrestle it to the ground before building a fire and using its blood as war paint. Instead, the book looks at how men tend to be wired when it comes to making difficult decisions that require us to advance into the unknown.
Dr Crabb describes two spheres, the sphere of management and the sphere of mystery. Apparently men tend to prefer the sphere of management, which is where we are confident, secure, competent and in control. It is here that we know what we are doing and how to do it, here that we can cope, here that everything is under control. By contrast, the sphere of mystery is seemingly chaotic. Nothing is under control, there are no easy answers, we do not know what will happen next and we are outside of our comfort zone, our area of competence.
An example might be (and due credit must be given to Dr Crabb for this example which is lifted wholesale from his book) a husband and father awoken during the night by a slamming front door who goes to the window to see his teenage daughter running down the road. What is she doing? What has happened? What does he do now? Doing something constructive, something purposeful, something manly requires a step into the sphere of mystery. He could wake his wife and ask her to pray with him. He could let her sleep and go after his daughter. He could sit on the front porch and wait for her. None of these are assured of success, but they are decisive steps that reflect the character of God in some fashion or another. But the paralysis sets in when considering which of these steps to take. A man who resolves to stay within the sphere of management will do nothing, because he is so fearful of doing the wrong thing. He will sit there, like a rabbit in the headlights, because he does not know what to do and is afraid to take a step into the dark, a step that may be wrong, a step that is not part of a guaranteed recipe for success, a step that fills him with dread because he is not in control. So what does he do? He could lie there worrying and fretting, he could wake his wife up and shout at her and blame her, he could go downstairs, make himself a stiff drink and watch something distracting or worse on the TV or computer. All of these would represent a retreat into the sphere of management. He knows where he is and what he is doing. He's not fixing anything, but he's not taking any risky steps either. He is not reflecting the character and call of his God.
I know that however I dress up my disinclination for adventure and my desire for routine, ultimately it represents weakness and fear. I'm not being unduly hard on myself in saying that, merely honest about my shortcomings. It is hard for me to be adventurous, hard for me to venture forth into areas of uncertainty, hard to take steps when I don't know how firm underfoot the ground will prove to be. Think of Indiana Jones at the end of The Last Crusade, challenged to leap from "the lion's head", seemingly into a bottomless abyss, only to find the path solid beneath him.
Very recently, it took no small measure of firm encouragement from my patient and loving wife for me to venture forth and broach a difficult subject with someone. I was concerned I might embarrass myself, might look foolish. I thought it might not go as I hoped, but that is the very nature of adventure. I do not know how it will go, I do not know the outcome. Life is not a recipe or formula, where x + y = z. It does not work like that and if I expect it to I will be endlessly frustrated and regressive. So I bit the bullet and broached the subject. The world did not come to and end, I did not get shouted at or laughed at or cried at. Life goes on and I have learned a little lesson about adventure. Not much of one, but it's a start.
God does not want me to shrink back, to worry whether he will come through if I trust in him. He wants me to persevere, take the big risks, trust him, press forward. I didn't shrink back from the gap year in Uganda God called me to in 1998, or run away from the bungee jump offered in 2001 and yet here I am in 2010 fretting about whether or not to embark on a potentially difficult conversation! How much ground I have lost. God grant me greater boldness and courage and the will to be decisive in moving forward to the things you have for me. Help me to take the steps I find difficult and to look for the opportunities and doors you would have me push open.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Publishing Error

This is far from the first commentary on Zoo magazine and the detestable comment made by Danny Dyer in a recent "agony aunt" page. Indeed, such is the speed with which the blogosphere seems to move these days, my comments probably seem thoroughly after the event.
For those not yet up to speed, Danny Dyer is an actor, TV presenter and now Zoo Magazine contributor. Someone wrote into the magazine asking for advice on how to get over an ex-girlfriend and Danny Dyer's advice was to cut her face so that no-one will want her any more.
Zoo magazine have published an unequivocal apology and said they will make a donation to Women's Aid (
The comment by Mr Dyer was described as a "Publishing Error" (hence the title of this blog), which will surely go down as one of the greatest circumlocutions of all time. A publishing error? Someone endorses horrific violence and it is passed off as an error? The comments section on Zoo's website is growing by the hour. I won't include a link, as the website's content is gratuitous and sleazy to say the least, but the trend of the comments is satisfying - "I will be cancelling my subscription", "this apology is inadequate", "you need to include an article in the next issue on the problems of violence against women", "Danny Dyer and the Editor need to go". At least no-one is condoning the comment, or trying to justify or explain it away.
The reality is that lads magazines present a real problem in terms of the view and treatment of women that they perpetuate. To log into the comments section of Zoo's website you have to state your gender, except it is "bird" for women. It seems to me that this says it all. If anyone demonstrates an approach to women that objectifies them, treats or dismisses them as inferior and reduces them to an image for the sexual gratification of others then that is how those on the receiving end will see them and treat them. If someone keeps telling me that women are there to be used and abused then in the absence of any counter-balancing influences I am at risk of taking that attitude on board.
Now, we all, myself included, have to take responsibility for how we perceive and treat people. I cannot say, "Zoo and Nuts say women are meat and no-one told me different so that's why I behave this way". I have a responsibility to form a correct view of women, to treat them correctly and respectfully and not to blame the representations of others for my own attitudes. But I can help myself along the way by avoiding negative influences and embracing positive ones. I can avoid the top shelf, I can avoid Nuts, Zoo, Loaded and the rest. I can choose to see women in the correct light and to communicate the right attitudes to my children, especially my sons, so that they will grow up to respect women as well and treat them correctly.
But back to Zoo and its absurd apology. What was printed was not a publishing error. It was a publishing action. Words were typed up, proof-read, approved and printed. An error is something done by mistake, this bears all the hallmarks of deliberate action. If the error, or flaw lies anywhere it lies in the character of people who not only think this sort of thing, but commit it to print as well. Whether the reasoning was as cynical as "no publicity is bad publicity" or "this will get people talking" I cannot say, but there is something profoundly wrong in the heart of someone who will write such a thing. It's not funny, or ironic, or un-reconstructed. It is dangerous, moronic, horrific, misogynistic.
I have said plenty of stupid things in my time, things I wish I could take back, things that have hurt others. For what it's worth, I think the apology from Zoo should be in big bold type on the front page of their magazine, with no scantily-clad women as a distraction and it should read as follows:-
"I cannot apologise enough for what I printed. It not only displays a deeply disturbing attitude towards woman, it draws into question fundamental issues in my character. I am not sure what the comment I made says about my heart, but I will not contribute anything to any magazine or television programme until I have sought counselling. I will also spend time with victims of violence so as to better understand the realities of something I wrote about so flippantly. My comments were included in the magazine as a shameless exercise in self-publicity and every penny spent on the issue of this magazine in which my comments appeared will be donated to Women's Aid". That seems to me to be a good start.
I am sorry this is all a bit self-righteous. I cannot claim to have never treated women as objects. I have not always steered clear of objectifying representations of women. But I am not sure we need to be perfect in order to be able to point out what is wrong around us. I cannot critique culture from the point of view of "I'm perfect and you should be like me", but I can surely from the point of view of, "I've done things wrong and I am at times guilty of what I am condemning, but it IS wrong and it needs to change".