Friday, November 21, 2014

NKP - Hallelujah news!

It was way back on August 31st that I posted news that a proposal was being submitted to the Lilly Grant Foundation in the USA from Northern Seminary bearing the initials NKP.  These stand for 'A New Kind of Preacher'.  A programme focusing less on the processes of preaching than the person of the preacher, especially in relationship to the worshipping community.  By forums, peer learning groups and new resources NKP proposed to open up the lives of preachers in the Metro-Chicago area to fresh opportunities of collaboration. 

Well, as you can guess from the heading....we heard today that the proposal has been accepted and the grant awarded!   Wonderful! The newly-appointed administrator (appointed in faith!) sent me a sound presentation - to an accompanying drum roll the slide show announced this good news.  It's for a five year programme which must become self-sustaining by its conclusion. Like all new ideas it will involve considerable hard work to bring it to birth. It's a truism in leadership that it's not the beginning enthusiasm that counts but sustaining momentum to the desired outcome. Remember the warning about building a tower and not being able to finish it (Luke 13: 28-30)?  But, as you can guess, I am really eager to give it my best as I work on through my quasi-retirement.  It's a wonderful opportunity to flesh out ideas from my last book in one of the most diverse church settings in the world.  Yes, I'm excited and grateful. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Walking on papier mache!

I remember as a child making papier mache models with newspaper and paste.  When they dried hard they could be painted and appear remarkably solid.  This analogy came to mind this week as I have passed another milestone in my recovery from foot surgery.  The physiotherapist pronounced himself very pleased with my progress and announced I could now walk without crutches. Actually, this announcement was made dramatically. As he met us in the patients' waiting area to summons us into the treatment area, I reached for my crutches (as I have done for ten weeks!) ' Oh', he said, 'you don't need those any more.  Try walking without them.' With that, my crutches disappeared and I found myself standing unaided.

This is where papier mache comes to mind. My right leg looks solid but using it for the first time it felt unconvincing as the real thing - more a newspaper paste substitute.   I went through a series of exercises with him which involved, among other things, standing one-footed on my damaged leg with my eyes closed, and also balancing on a rubber hemisphere.  In spite of wobbles, he judged me fine to walk away and he discharged me.  What?!

In the few days since I have entered a brave new world of walking with a highly suspect leg.  Weirdness and pain are likely to be around for some time as I learn to walk unsupported. Friends have spoken about faith needed to start this trek - one man told me he had so lost confidence he just couldn't walk at the beginning.  Certainly, my leg has to much more to do to convince me. But, as you can imagine, this turn of events has Carol and me rejoicing. Thanks for following these bulletins...hopefully there will not be many more!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

50 years' on

Today I wandered down memory lane as Jesus College Cambridge brought together students who matriculated in 1964 for a celebration lunch.  On arrival we were given a name tag and copy of the college photograph from 50 years ago. I was startled to see my youthful self on the second row, peering through glasses with my hair standing upright.  Scanning my peers in the photo I remembered a surprising number but wondered who they might be amongst the crowd of grey-haired men in front of me.

We moved to set places for a sumptuous meal (eel, duck, etc. etc.)   To my joy I found myself placed between the two other geographers in our year.  I had recognized both of them in the photo and fifty years on they had weathered well.  One was a top sportsman gaining blues for cricket and football who continued into top head teacher roles. The other became head of geography in another significant school.  The banter we shared surprised me by our depth of recollections about each other. We shared about our journeys since with a quality of interest sharpened in some mysterious way because we belonged together 1964-7.

The passing years are marked by some sadness.  Several of our friends have died and the next reunion planned for 2024 is some way off! But the predominant mood was one of thanksgiving for the opportunities we have been given and lives lived so far. To be able to look back with thanksgiving is a real gift and today I received a surprising present.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Teacher encouragements

Over the last two months of enforced inactivity, some great encouragements have come from former students.  I asked Eric if I could share his story.  He is an associate pastor in a mega church with responsibility for leading worship in a satellite contemporary service which is fed a livecast (video) sermon from the main sanctuary elsewhere. (Yes, there's a debate there!) Eric assumed it would work as usual, but on this occasion there was a picture with no sound. He found himself in an uncomfortable position. Let him describe it:   
I find 400 squirrely people not knowing what to do and some are starting to leave.  I pop up on stage and break the ice by stating the obvious and bringing  a little chuckle to the room.  I ask the congregation to discuss a question (pertaining to the topic of the morning) and promise to report back with the plan for what we will do for the remainder of service.  I make my way to the staff and tech team who are running in circles.  I say, “Hey!  I have a Bible and I’m sure it says to preach the Word.  I’m going to go share/preach something.”  This calms the staff and as I walk up to stage I literally think, “Lord, I have forsaken the preaching swim and jumped into the deep end of the pool.  You have to give me a message!” 
The Lord was faithful and planted a message in my mind from Colossians 3.  Through the experience I was reminded how important it is to remain in the Word (so you have something to say when called upon), to shepherd your flock, and remember that God works in his church in amazing ways.  For the first time in quite a while, I felt as if we were being the church—which took the chaos of the moment to provide this gift.
Eric kindly thanked me for teaching him about the 'preaching swim' and also about depending on God in deep water! Oh how stories like this gladden my heart.  Any other former students out there...please keep in touch.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Get well wishes

After nearly 8 weeks of parading my get well cards in the lounge, Carol has called time!  And perhaps as well because they somewhat dominated our living room.  But, as I look now at the pile in my hand, I must express my gratitude to all who sent them.  It takes considerable effort to find a get well card, especially if choosing with a particular person in mind, and then to write a personal message in it and mail it.  I loved my email messages but you cannot handle them in the same way!
Because I was locked down, drugged and immobile, I spent considerable time valuing each and every card. Some showed beautiful scenes. I happen to love trees and landscapes and several drew my eye into glorious countryside and seascape. I especially loved the ones showing a path through woods with sunshine in the distance. Several were humorous and one unintentionally so. Sent from the deaconesses at  First Baptist Church, Wheaton in Illinois it quoted Ps 84:5: Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee. However, the picture showed a stout pair of walking boots, a map, compass and rucksack. For a man wobbling on crutches it seemed somewhat pointed!

Several had Scripture verses that I had time to ponder: Jas. 4:8, 2 Cor. 12:9, Ps 105:5, Ps 115:15, Ps 130:5, Ps.25, Lam. 3:22-23.  Most had personal notes, sometimes even a letter, all of which I read with the greatest of care. My family sent me home-made cards with pertinent illustrations. Elliot drew a hospital trolley!  Some surprised me, like a card signed by all the members of the table-tennis group.  Actually, many surprised me because of the kindness and effort shown.

I think you can tell what these cards have meant to me!  Thank you for so brightening these past weeks.

Friday, October 24, 2014

At last - a surprise breakthrough!

Thank you to my long-suffering friends who have digested these medical bulletins. Hopefully, I am turning the corner. And you can skip this bulletin anyway!

7 weeks after surgery, my hospital visit this week involved another set of Xrays, followed by a consultation with my surgeon.  To our delight (oh, yeah!) he announced my bones were healing appropriately and I was even given a photocopy of the metalwork, resembling an inverted Eiffel Tower.  Cautiously, he advised me to keep my boot/cast on and begin weight-bearing by increments of a quarter of my weight each week over the next month. I was left more than a little puzzled by how to  calculate all this, and (honestly) some disappointment that I would inevitably have a hop-along gait for several more weeks.

Then I was whisked off to the Physiotherapy dept.  Conner (a lively Irish lad) who has overseen my exercises immediately tested my progress.  You know how that happens! Pressing hard (yes really hard) against my foot he measured my resistance in different directions.   He expressed pleasure at my improvement. (I must admit I have practiced my exercises relentlessly in order to impress him!)  But guess what!  He announced I could renounce my boot/cast for ever and begin to walk normally, with the help of crutches.  There and then, with him at my side, I walked the length of the room (though with a touch of bladerunner along the bottom of my right foot).

I need to be careful because walking 'normally' without crutches is still a considerable way off (and driving etc). But what liberation!  And what wonderful timing too.  For the next day I had to address a Thanksgiving Service for a friend whom I was proud to know,  David Ridgeon MBE,  whose stature in Cambridge and beyond brought over 600 to the service in my old church at St. A's.   To reduce all the drama of getting a wheelchair onto the platform etc. to a simple shuffle on crutches was a real answer to prayer.  Well, like the whole process has been!  So, I'm on the way.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Listening with Grampy

Last week I was left in charge of my two older grandchildren while the others went shopping.  Anton, who is just 10 years old told me that his birthday gift was a stereo system and that before he goes to sleep he loves to listen to classical music.  What?  Currently there is an schools' initiative to encourage children to listen to classical music, but his (apparently independent) commitment startled and thrilled me.  I also love to listen to classical music on my personal CD player when my head hits the pillow  So entranced was I by the thought of Anton's new enthusiasm that I made a daring decision.

For six weeks I have not ventured down the garden to my shed/sanctuary.  Wobbling on crutches over grass has not seemed a good idea.  But with the help of Luca and Anton, with well positioned chairs for me to overcome steps at either end, I ventured forth.  The shed was in need of airing, but we all sat down as I reached for an LP to play on my stereo.  Both sets of eyes opened wide. What was I doing.  Vinyl revolved, the stylus lowered, followed by a slight crackling from the speakers.  'Look,' said Luca, 'it's gradually moving towards the middle.'  They had both declared that they like Elgar (good choice!)  So I had put on his Symphony No. 1 which is one of the best English symphonies of all time.  It begins softly with a solemn drum beat.  Suddenly, a wonderful tune bursts out.  I confess I had set the volume high! Their faces were entranced.  Yes, really! Anton stood up and started conducting the orchestra, arms wide open to the majestic sound.  'This is wonderful, Grampy',  they said.   The telephone rang shortly afterward and interrupted the concert, but not too soon to rob me of an unforgettable moment bonding with my grandchildren. We need to seize and treasure such moments, don't we?