Good enough is just going to have to be good enough

14 10 2010

Today has been a bit of a reality check. But an intentional one. Not one of those unexpected occasions that brings you down to earth with a bump.

I spent a significant part of the day working on my project and diary planning for the next three weeks or so. It very quickly became apparent when I compared what I have to do with what time I have available, that I have taken too much on.

That hasn’t led to any desperate soul searching on my part. I am not about to offload any of it. There’s either no-one to give it to, or it’s too late to pull out or it’s an essential ongoing commitment. Or a combination of all of the above. Seriously, believe me. I’m not being a martyr.

No, reality was biting in a different way.

A week or two ago my colleague returned from a meeting with his work consultant. One of the things that had really stuck out for him from their conversation was the thought that one of the things that kills your effectiveness – in ministry, probably in any work – is perfectionism. Notice I said perfectionism – that’s the drive to make things perfect. That’s not the same thing at all as saying that what one does is perfect. In fact, perfectionism tends to leave one with the feeling that nothing one does is ever good enough.

But when I really worked out when I was going to do what I need to do; and tried to ensure that I was building in getting to bed before midnight on most nights instead of as a rare exception; and having a proper rest day at least once a week; and making sure that prayer is a priority, I realised that I was going to have to be strict with myself. The limited time I have allocated to the tasks I have, is all the time I have. I am just going to have to get better at working out how to do something in one hour that previously would have taken two or more.

Partly that is about just getting on with it and not faffing around the edges of a task. But also it’s going to mean it’s going to have to be the best it can be with an hour spent on it; not the best I can possibly make it, however long it takes. And do you know, I think faffing around has perversely to do with that same perfectionism. It’s because I’m labouring under a vision of whatever I’m working on that the actuality can never live up to. It’s fear of mediocrity that keeps me from actually just ploughing in and getting it done. Hence perhaps losing the way with Sunday mornings. Most likely because of being afraid of something being less than perfect. My near constant state of exhaustion from having to play catch up in the wrong sort of time (ie: when i should be playing/resting/sleeping) means mediocre is what I sometimes (often?) end up delivering – most of all in terms of the time and attention I give to those closest to me.

If I was a teacher, I’d probably want every lesson to be outstanding. But my suspicion is that any teacher who wants to actually have a life outside school will tell you that’s impossible. Good is good enough. It has to be. There’s a time and a place for excellence. But just like your battles, you have to pick your moments. Trying to make them all the very best will mean none of them can be.

Some of you out there are probably saying: ‘Well, duh!’ If so, well done for getting there before me. I’ve known this for… well probably forever. Will this be the time I finally nail it? It would be nice. But having failed to do so for the past 21 years of my working life, I am a little skeptical. But maybe this time…

I’m a failure :-D

6 06 2010

I am thinking of renaming this weblog. ‘Failblog’ is my favourite. Unfortunately it’s taken.

If you get the reference here, you’re too old for all this cutting edge stuff! It is, of course, the hapless Frank Spencer.

I am just very conscious of my failings at the moment. I’ve posted nothing on here for a month at least. I have failed to write a single word of the dissertation chapter I intended to write this half term holiday. Instead I faffed about tidying the study and serfing (sic) t’Internet. I have also stayed up way too late, far too often playing video games. So it’s not even as if my failure to do any work (which I shouldn’t really have been doing anyway) resulted in my family getting quality attention from me. Pottering around the edges of a bit of work meant that nothing and nobody really got any good attention. *Sigh*

I am my own worst enemy.

Being tired, of course, doesn’t tend to lead to feelings of joyous hopefulness. I just need a good night’s sleep or seven.

I am writing this sitting at the table in the pub hosting my Sunday evening conversation. Except of course the fact that I’m typing this dear listener should be a massive hint that there ain’t much conversation happening! I’m not particularly bothered about that. I am happy to just be here on occasion to maintain the presence. I am conscious though that this weekly event hasn’t connected as yet with any new constituency of people. To be honest it’s mostly christian friends I’ve met in various ways in my previous ministry and a few others. It’s clearly meeting some sort of need for them for more ‘edgy’ spiritual/theological conversation. But I haven’t made contact with those other people — the spiritual but not religious people in the city — who might be interested to discuss what the Christian Tradition might have to offer.

I know that I’m repeating myself now. I have said this before. I can even think of the actual post title where I’ve said this before. I suppose this is then just to report: no progress! Fail.

Failure and success are slippery categories in my view. There is something of the immediate results culture that has touched the Church. And with resources being so tight, it’s right that hard questions should be asked about the value of this particular investment over another – those are the choices that have to be made. I am sometimes guilty of letting myself off the hook. It’s all too easy in the worlds of pioneer ministry and fresh expressions to hide laziness and lazy thinking behind funky words. With me I think it’s not so much that I don’t work hard enough (though I can’t evade that entirely) but rather that I don’t always work intelligently enough. And I do too easily allow myself to become distracted. For instance, this morning, looking for a nice picture of Michael Crawford as Frank Spencer led me into a period of reading about both the real actor and the fictional character on t’interweb.

Life is full of strange consonance, conjunctions and coincidences. It’s rare in my experience so far that anything is ever completely wasted. There is something about the quality of a spiritual life that allows I think for idleness; that values human life as a whole, not just for its productivity or effectiveness. Alongside that, of course, one has to set the call to discipleship which is a hard road. So I recognise myself as a failure. I look for opportunities to grow and be more attentive to life and those with whom I share it. But at the same time, I can, like Frank Spencer, express that recognition with joy, because that call to grow never takes me beyond the confines of grace. I am loved. There is One who delights in me despite, maybe even because of, the fact that I’m a failure.

New Year’s resolutions

10 01 2010

It’s amazing how often a break from work gives you the opportunity to think more clearly about work. So it was in the Christmas break for me. I took the week after Christmas off.

I was in the shower… actually it’s remarkable how often these soughts of moments (epiphanies?) occur in that small cubicle. I’m not a utility showerer. That bathroom is a bit of a retreat for me. I do often catch myself sort of on pause — you could call it daydreaming — while the water streams over me. Anyway it was one of those moments. It occurred to me that if I am to stand any chance of completing my MA dissertation by the 11th May deadline, I really can’t afford to take on any new projects.

And I did have some plans forming.

I was planning a sort of rolling guerrilla happening for Lent. I had it in mind to make a kind of portable sacred space with a shed on pram wheels — it would be part soapbox go-cart, part outbuilding and part mobile confessional. The plan forming in my mind was that that I would tow the thing around the city centre behind my bike. It would pop up each week in unexpected places, like the Guildhall Square, the train station concourse, in front of the law courts, on the footbridge by the university halls of residence and the car park of the city centre academy school.

As I write now, I’m still gripped by the romance of the idea. It would be fun. It might generate a buzz. It would be arresting. (Actually without the right permissions in place, I might be arrested!) It’s a good idea (even if I do say so myself). I would feel very satisfied if I managed to make it happen.

So too would I if I managed to create some sort of weekly drop in – dare I say sanctuary – kind of sacred space in the city centre academy school. It’s a great moment as the academy establishes itself. It could work. It’s a good idea. I would feel very satisfied if I managed to make it happen.

But any satisfaction I experienced would be inevitably spoilt by the constant nagging feeling that something else significant I had already committed myself to was being left behind. Namely, my unwritten MA dissertation.

Now my own personal satisfaction isn’t the final arbiter of what I should and shouldn’t do. But that’s not to say it doesn’t come into it at all. Of course it does. I’m a human being. I can’t honestly pray the prayer for generosity of St Ignatius of Loyola. Can you? And St Ignatius himself, describing the process of discerning God’s will talks about doing what brings you consolation and not doing what brings desolation. Again, that’s a much deeper question than what brings satisfaction or dissatisfaction. But neither is it wholly divorced from all that.

What seems clear to me is that there are moments when you have to say no to good ideas – other people’s or your own. You have to leave aside things it would be really good to do, at the moment that might seem in some ways the best moment to do them, because you simply don’t have the capacity to take anything else on without giving up on commitments you’ve already made.

That’s what I, with some degree of regret, am resolved to do in the first part of this year. It’s tough for a pioneer – a natural initiator – to move into a holding pattern. But the MA dissertation has to be my primary project if it’s not to be abandoned altogether.

Too busy not to blog

22 09 2009

1069108_computer_keyboardOne reader posted a question today as a comment on the previous post, asking if it is ‘all quiet on the Western Front’. It has always been a feature of blogs that bloggers write a lot of posts apologising for not writing posts. I’m no exception. It has been quiet on this blog and I do worry that I will be annoying or alienating those people who take the time and trouble to read it. Sorry. I had a really interesting comment from ‘Ferry’ in questions of power and identity to which I’m still formulating a response.

The truth is I think that there may have been times when I wrote this blog in lieu of work instead of it being a report and reflection on my work. Not all the time but on occasion.

There’s loads going on at the moment. I haven’t been very effective at managing that work (what’s new?). But I think the other factor has been our sheer tiredness in this household. The summer was busy. It needed to be to entertain the children. But we (my wife and I) have come back from that break feeling more in need of a holiday than we have ever felt before. It may be something to do with the particular ages of our children (or more likely of us!) or their particular needs, but collectively they need more from us than at any time we can remember previously. We are exhausted.

But there are some good things happening in my work. I will give more detail in the coming days but the headlines are:

  • the St Luke’s PCC approved my proposal to relocate our Sunday activity to one of the local tower blocks and to change the character of what we do with that time.
  • I agreed just today with the director of a new city centre pub that I can run a Sunday evening spirituality and conversation event there each week.
  • I have made some progress with my MA and think it will be moving in a really interesting and yet achievable direction
  • I have been doing some more interesting and stimulating work with schools

That does all sound a but self-congratulatory! Well done me!

But I hope you will understand dear reader that this remains testing and challenging work that asks all sorts of questions of me personally and of the church more generally. But I’m too busy not to blog. I hope you will bear with me and continue to offer your comments as I lay out my joys and struggles and air the wider issues I think this all raises for the church in particular but also perhaps of all of us, whatever our sphere of work.

Watching this space will, I hope, not be quite so fruitless an activity as it has been for all of you of late.

Canvassing opinion

2 09 2009

1021125_under_canopies_3It was a bit longer than a week or so wasn’t it! It’s been a busy summer with a real variety of experiences. And now I am looking down the barrel of a very challenging autumn.

The summer started with the family at ‘New Wine’. This is a week long christian event run by the New Wine network.

This isn’t the place to dis’ other people’s spirituality, so I will refrain. But this was not a happy experience for me. I have been before so I wasn’t surprised, but I am so far away from this sort of muscular christianity. We only went again because the children enjoyed it last year (when I went with my then training incumbent). When they enjoy it and ask to go and when the rest of the time they have very little contact with other children in a church setting, it feels mean not to take them. I was concerned at times about the level of indoctrination my children might have been subject to, but actually, they seem to be able to make quite mature judgements about what’s being said to them. And we’ve got the rest of the year to give them a broader range of experiences.

A friend and colleague recently gave me (mischievously I think) a copy of an article by John Milbank called ‘Stale Expressions: The Management-Shaped Church’. As well as critiquing the fresh expressions agenda, Milbank gives the managerialism of evangelical Christianity a bit of a going over too. This article is uncomfortable reading for people like me who have adopted an emerging/missional ecclesiology and I will return to it as I grapple with it in the coming weeks (because he makes a lot of good points).

The managerialism of evo Xty is very much evident at something like New Wine. Milbank’s analysis is quite persuasive but when you’re at a big event away from home with your children, you notice when it’s well run. So in that regard alone, I was appreciative of evo managerialism.

It stood in stark contrast to the frankly shambolic nature of Greenbelt. This was my third time at Greenbelt (a christian arts festival over the Bank Holiday weekend). I had been in ’06 and ’07 and really enjoyed it. Both times previously I had been without children. The laid back feel had been part of the attraction on those occasions. But this time around with kids in tow, I didn’t find it quite so amusing.

The contrast was all the more stark because not only had we been to the (well run but bonkers) New Wine conference at the beginning of the summer, but also because we had been only two days previously at EuroDisney (or Disneyland Resort Paris as we must now call it). Now that is well run!

We’d been there to meet up with my brother and his family, whom we hadn’t seen since last summer. Good times. If a little tiring.

Now you’d think after 3 days in Disneyland, we’d be used to queueing. But in Disneyland, you queue for 30 minutes to share a thrilling ride with excited children. At Greenbelt, we queued for an hour for a plastic token to get our children into an activity session. At the end of the queue, there were tokens for only one out of three. The venues for our two junior age children were already full. And they wouldn’t give us tokens for the afternoon session. We’d have to come back and queue again for that (for an hour and a half as it turned out). But even before that queue, when we came back an hour after collecting the morning session token for the actual session, we queued to get through the front gate, and then again at the venue inside the children’s compound and then the same again when we came back 2½ hours later to pick her up.

Now I’m sure the properly spiritual response would have been to have appreciated the unexpected downtime and to just chill enjoying the view of ominously gathering rainclouds overhead (It never did quite properly rain – unlike New Wine where we had a monsoon). But after a night of shivering in the tent, I was having a bit of a sense of humour failure, to be honest.

That all said, Greenbelt was enjoyable. The children did have a good time and did get to see a very different expression of christianity from what they’d experienced at New Wine. They loved watching Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra on the mainstage. But Athlete on Monday night was just a bit too late for them to really enjoy it without needing to ask after every song: ‘is it finished now – can we go home?’

So now, back home, and back to work, I face the challenge of needing to write a proposal for an extension to my licence in the autumn of next year. When I started back in October, I knew this point would arrive. My job for year one was to explore possibilities and suggest a focus for ongoing work. A licence extension wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion, but it seemed like that’s what everyone expected. But the situation has changed. The bishop is retiring this month. The diocese is facing some pretty severe financial constraints. So the question I need to answer is no longer merely, ‘what will I do?’ but ‘why is it necessary?’ I need to answer that question not just for the locality but for the whole diocese, which is facing all sorts of cuts. I’m confident I can make a strong case for why this work is needed here and why an investment should be made here particularly. I’m also confident I can demonstrate how this is vital for the whole diocese. But it’s a big piece of work. If you’re the praying kind. Pray for me. If you’re not, and you don’t feel like giving praying a go, touch wood or do whatever you do to send out your positive encouragement!

A kick up the proverbial

9 06 2009

Basically I have needed one. A kick that is.

I finally, after quite a lot of effort early in my appointment, have got a work consultant sorted. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and laid it on the line as far as what I though about my effectiveness as a worker is concerned. And I got the help I needed. He asked me the tough and direct questions I need to be asked but have shied away from asking myself. When I know what I need to do to turn around my effectiveness and achieve my goals – why aren’t I doing it?

I asked for a kick up the bum and I got one. And in a couple of weeks’ time, I’m seeing him again and he’ll ask me how I’ve been doing. This will be so helpful.

An apology…

8 06 2009

Sorry to those of you who regularly follow this blog that the content has come in fits and starts. It’s amazing how easy it is to get behind. I will try and keep things updated a little more regularly from now on…

So, the pub

20 04 2009

So, while thinking about what I have and (haven’t) managed to do, I pondered the fact that I spent only a fortnight in the pub (the Fleet in the Guildhall Square in Portsmouth). So it struck me. No evening service on a Sunday night. I’ll just go and hang out in the pub every Sunday night. And if I post it on facebook that I’m there, maybe some viral thing might happen and people might join me for a pint and pontification (actually that’s not the tone I’m looking for but I couldn’t think of another word that would alliterate with pint). I suppose I could have gone for beer and… blah, blah, blah? or ale and… argument? or stout and… speech? or guinness and… gobbing off?

Anyway. That’s what I’m doing. Actually I started on Sunday. I met up with one friend who wanted to interview me for a research project. And we’ll see who’s around this Sunday. Tell your friends…

But at my back I always hear…

20 04 2009

…time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near. (Andrew Marvell: To his coy mistress)

Where has April gone? Where is the year going. It will very soon be May and though I’ve got lots of irons in the fire, I haven’t really achieved very much. I’m a quarter of a year into a two-year licence. And actually I’m supposed to have my draft BMO (Bishop’s Mission Order) ready for the end of this year. And I’m supposed to be doing an MA dissertation. And I’ve got nowhere. Now where?

I know I shouldn’t panic.
But I am.
Just a little bit.

Now of course, I’m only six months in. And these things take time. A lot of time. But I still can’t shake off the nagging thought that one of the factors slowing things down is me.

Maybe I’m just a big talker. I remember a Spitting Image sketch taking the piss out of Shirley Williams. It was in the style of one of those anonymous appeals on behalf of people suffering some horrendous social difficulty. ‘Shirley’s a talker’ was the line that stood out then when I was ooh, ever so young! What if that’s me?

My very first post on this blog was in the form of a resolution to get on with stuff. Well, it’s still me, so it’s still the same struggle. Too many things buzzing round my head to just settle and get on with one or another. Please, tell me I’m not the only one.

Actually this reminds me that this very morning I bumped into a friend who is a someone I perceive to be a highly efficient manager and ‘fixer’ in his profession. He repeated his offer to me of some personal coaching time. Kerching! Now where did I put his number…

Chaplain of the Fleet

4 02 2009

Yesterday was the first day of the couple of weeks I’m intending to spend in a city centre pub. I arrived at around midday and just took a walk down Guildhall walk, photographing all the pub/bar exteriors on my iPhone and thinking about where I would start.

I didn’t intend to try and get round them all but to chose one to focus on and spend the next fortnight in there. That in itself was a difficult call. Perhaps the way forward would have been to go on a crawl and then by the end I wouldn’t have cared.

But as I had in mind that I wanted to organise Beer and Hymns in a pub for Easter Day night, I could fairly easily rule out the Isambard Kingdom Brunel – a Weatherspoons pub as they don’t have music. I guessed that the clientele would be a little more transient than one of the others that might draw in a particular crowd. From the outset, my hunch was that the Fleet along King Henry I Street, next door to Weatherspoons would be a good bet so I went with my hunch.

I wandered in, bought a drink at the bar, chatted to the barmaid a bit and then bought a sandwich and sat down at a table next to a group of lads. I thought about approaching them and initiating a conversation but it was my intention to start my time there engaged in ‘surveillance’. I’m following the process used by the Church on the Edge project, and I guess familiar to people trained in detached youth work.

One of the project leaders, Richard Passmore, describes the stages on his blog.

Basically, you start with observing a wide area to identify where you want to begin. That can take quite a long time and I’ve shortcut that massively, but I do only have two weeks (and even then it’s an interrupted two weeks). So I haven’t – as one might if following this process more fully – gone into every pub. But I thought it would be important before diving in to spend my first day observing the life in the pub over the sort of period I’m likely to be there each day. I’ll be missing another whole part of its life – the night. Given my last post, you might have thought this is where I’d want to start, but these are just tasters really and I wanted to make this manageable.

The people I saw during the day were overwhelmingly young. They came in pairs, small groups and occasionally large groups. They appeared to be students in the main and bar staff confirmed that impression. There were some others too. Lone older drinkers, middle-aged couples and other young people who I’m guessing were not students.

People generally stayed for quite a long time. It looked to me as if I would be hard, not to say rude, to break into the groups of people as their conversation was animated. These were groups of friends having a good time together – why would they want to speak to a vicar? (Even if he does have ripped jeans and spiky hair.)

The only way to find out will be to try. That’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

I spent quite a lot of time just supping and looking (nice work if you can get it!). That was quite hard actually. It doesn’t feel like especially productive time, when I’ve been used to recently ‘getting things done’. And I wondered how people might feel about the presence of this lone cleric just hanging around. People did look at me inquisitively on occasion and I just caught hints of conversation that suggested people were intrigued. I didn’t get the feeling that people were especially creeped out by my being there.

I did have some conversations. I said a hello to a lone drinker who I’ll call ‘J’. I chatted to the busy bar staff when I could and managed to have a bit of a longer conversation with the shift manager. I asked him about the possibility of a Beer and Hymns night and he seemed up for it. He was also very relaxed about me hanging around for the next couple of weeks and initiating conversations with people.

So I’m good to go. I’ll keep you posted on what happens!

The Fleet from King Henry I Street 

The Fleet from King Henry I Street

The Fleet entrance from Spring Gardens

The Fleet entrance from Spring Gardens

30 p.m.

Inside the Fleet at about 3:30 p.m.