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.

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…

Retreat! Retreat!

23 03 2009

I spent last week travelling to, being at and returning from an organized retreat for pioneer ministers at Lee Abbey in North Devon. It was a time for deep spiritual reflection. It was hard work. There was no raucous singing round a beach fire and definitely no late night card playing or whisky drinking. Honest.

There were 24 of us involved in all kinds of projects. I was particularly in awe of Paul and Jo who are running a pub in Coventry. You’ve got to admire anyone prepared to live in Coventry. Only joking J+P. Coventry’s lovely!

Quite a few of us were in ‘mixed economy’ appointments — part pioneer, part parish. Others were struggling to pioneer new forms in conventional appointments. There was a good deal of experience of frustration and misunderstanding being shared. I’m thankful that I have experienced such strong support this far in the Diocese of Portsmouth. I just have to cope with the pressure of expectation!

Soul space
The retreat programme included ‘soul space’ groups. We met in small groups with a facilitator. Each person who wanted to, shared something of what was going on for them each day of the retreat. The others in the group just listened in silence without comment. We kept silence after each speaker. We maintained a sort of double confidentiality. Anything shared in the group was kept private and we agreed not to approach each other to speak about anything that had been said. There were a few skeptical murmurings, but my experience of the group I was in was positive. I thought this was powerful and helpful. I think it could work in an adapted form with children as well as adults. You’d need two adults present for accountability and need to be careful about the degree of confidentiality that was guaranteed. You’d have to make it clear that you’d pass on anything that the school, for instance, needed to know. Children might find it more difficult to maintain the ‘no further discussion’ rule.

Prophet of boom!
Former President of the Methodist Conference, Tom Stuckey led a Bible reflection each day from Acts. He interpreted the current state of the world and the Church in prophetic terms. We’re in an in-between time, he said. We’re on the cusp of a Pentecostal explosion of Sprit. He didn’t mean Pentecostal in terms of Pentecostalism or charismatic renewal. He was speaking more about an explosion of missionary enterprise and the growth of the church in new forms (fresh expressions).

I’d love to go with his interpretation. It was certainly an exciting vision. I recognize absolutely his portrayal of where we are now as being in a liminal space. It definitely feels like we’re in uncharted territory. And it’s not comfortable even for those of us who spin ourselves as adventurous.

Sound the retreat
But ‘retreat’, ironically, feels like quite a good analogy for where the Church is at present to me.

There is a strong drive to retreat into forms of church and worship that make us feel safe or as I keep finding myself saying at the moment — like we’re on the winning side.

Church people always look at me askance when I say that. I’m sure they’re thinking (because sometimes they say so) ‘of course we’re on the winning side’. That’s the eschatological promise that Julian of Norwich spoke of when she said ‘all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’. It would be difficult to carry on if I didn’t have hope that in the end justice, peace, joy and love will overcome (underwhelm?) the forces arrayed against them.

But that is not the same thing as the triumphalism that characterizes some churches — the sort of churches that others want to retreat into. And to be honest, at times, I feel like retreating into. When I’m involved in a tiny, struggling church and we’re surrounded by mega church on every side, it can feel like you’ve got it wrong. Those closest to me aren’t wholly persuaded by my analysis that big church isn’t the way forward.

And when there’s pressure from within the congregation to try and emulate that soft rock style of gathered worship, perhaps with the idea that we too will become mega church somehow — it can be discouraging. Because in giving in to that pressure a bit we’re ending up with something that satisfies no-one and affirms our death rather than our life.

I think the future of the Church is as tiny, struggling congregations. But not struggling because we’re trying to recover past glories or copy someone else’s admittedly impressive present ones. Mega church is, I think, the last gasp of Christendom. It marshalls impressive resources and fosters a particular form of committed discipleship, but it fails, I believe to incarnate the gospel in the plethora of cultures around us. It expresses the gospel in a sub-culture that’s often more sub than culture. And in the end it doesn’t always provide the depth of spirituality people need to bear life’s complexities in faith. That’s my experience anyway.

I think if we take seriously the call to mission as a way of life and not just something we do ‘out there’ then it will shape our whole life — including what sustains us spiritually, individually and corporately. If we can’t find God in the forms of our immediate culture how on earth do we imagine we’ll help others to?

Getting stuck [in]

23 01 2009

Going to listen to Mike Frost was a bright start. It was inspiring and exciting.

But being a pioneer involves making stuff up. Going out and inventing things to do. Or rather, not things to do, so much as places to be. The wisdom of those further down the road is that you start by just making yourself present, regularly, reliably present and see who’ll you meet and what God will do.

Trouble is, when there are things to be done, as there so definitely are at St Luke’s – the other ‘half’ of my post in the city – it’s very easy to spend your time doing what needs to be done rather than on doing… well not much at all; other than hanging out around the place like a bad smell. Sorry that should be pleasing aroma.

So for the first few weeks, especially as my new colleague at St Luke’s had a new addition to his family, everything fell across my desk. I’d love to say that at least everything got sorted and I’m now free from all that and ready to go. Except it didn’t and I’m not.

Just getting ourselves orientated into a new congregation, new setting, new home and new relationships has taken up most of the time. I’ve also had to think seriously about my effectiveness and a persistent tendency to become distracted… oh look at that a new email about a book that looks interesting, what’s that’s author’s angle, let’s look up his biog on Google, he’s into complementarianism, what’s that? Wikipedia will tell me. Oh yuck! So the opposite view is egalitarianism, hmm, much more attractive, so who’s into that idea? interesting… oh sorry, where was I, oh yes: distracted and disorganised.

I’ve always been wary of self-help management books but reading Getting Things Done by David Allen and implementing some of its suggested strategies is beginning to make a difference. I know other, seemingly chaotic, people who appear to make things happen, but I wonder now whether personal organisation shouldn’t be a major plank of clergy training…

I got a bit stuck in another way too. The task just seemed (and still does) so big. The opportunities, needs and challenges are so multifarious as to make it paralysing. Where do I start? I still don’t know. I do know now that I just have to start somewhere. I have to make some choices before my licence to pioneer either expires or is revoked…