Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Retirement issues

A friend asked me over these last couple of days to help in the process of devising a questionnaire for retired Baptist ministers.  He had worked hard at some of the issues that Baptist ministers particularly have to face.  Like all retirees so much depends on health, finance and relationships but questions about where to live, how to find accommodation, whether to move away from the churches they have served all have an edge.  Even more sharp-edged are questions about losing a public role with all its given relationships and expectations.  Ministers respond very differently to suddenly finding themselves in a new place without being able to exercise ministry as they once did.

One of the most interesting sections of the putative questionnaire concerns relationships.  Relationship with God is primary with questions about personal spirituality and accountability. Relationship with a local church is also vital with questions about which kind of church and on a Likert scale (1-5) how happy are they within this church.  How much do they feel part of it?  How good is the relationship with the minister? Do you belong to a home group and other group? Do you have good friends in the church?

The section on relationships also asks about Baptist regional ministry and a sense of belonging to the 'wider Baptist family'.  Does the minister have meaningful contact with other ministers?

Of course there is much else that is asked.  It's a long questionnaire - probably too long. I guess the process of its devising has some way to go.  Bluntly, I confessed that such a task is not my gift!  But it really made me think with gratitude about how I would fill in that section on relationships. For all retirees the loss of role and coping with ageing forces us to face a new range of life issues, but relationships with God, church, family, friends and the wider family remain constants!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Tenth Anniversary

My first blog post was on 18 November 2007.  I was (fairly) gently ushered into the experience by Rob my IT son who insisted it was the best way for me to keep in contact with friends, students, churches.  I began hesitantly and defensively.  It seemed to me, and it still does, that happenings and thoughts in my life do not merit much attention.  Content has wobbled through personal news (with the largest response ever when Carol wrote about my prostrate cancer!); details of my itinerary and preaching with requests for help and prayers along the way;  consecutive posts on subjects such as top seven ministry qualities, top ten texts for preachers, funny things that happened in ministry; multiple reflections often with a devotional edge; and random events along the way.

Some of the strongest stats for readership occurred when I was interim preacher in churches where members collaborated in sermon preparation - before, during and after each sermon. That was very special.  On several occasions when I have asked for help as I prepared for conferences the post has hummed with tremendously positive input (often sent privately to me rather than posted publicly).  On such occasions I have thankfully agreed with my son's early enthusiasm. 

However, 10 years on I have wondered about its value as my life in retirement quietens down.  Should I continue or not? One or two have said my recounting of A Cambridge God Adventure is of interest to them and encouraged me to plough on with telling that story. This is something a retired guy can do (!) and I have the advantage of possessing details close to the events which will ensure I am not relying on memory. But I will only do it as long as the Lord gains the glory. So I shall persevere a little longer but I am very alert to the dangers of going into dotage.   To those of you who have generously stayed with me over the years I want to say an IMMENSE THANK YOU for belonging to this little cyber community which has given me so much encouragement and surprise through the years.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A sober weekend

Over Remembrance weekend I read for the first time All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque. My oldest son gave me the book a little while ago but I had never given it attention.  It is a tough read.  A group of German soldiers who go to the trenches in the First World War experience the gamut of horrific experiences as seen through the eyes of a sensitive nineteen year old Paul Baumer. So much is incredibly sad as his company of 150 soldiers is reduced to 32 in an early battle.  You long for him and his particular friends somehow to survive when so many others are perishing but in the end they all die.  The story came out of the author's own experiences on the front line - its vividness, horror and disillusionment all ring terribly true.

Reading this made a difference as Carol and I saw the British Legion Festival of Remembrance and shared in other remembrance events of the weekend. Several parts of the book particularly made me stop and think.  As when Paul Baumer describes a short home leave in the midst of the horror when he tries to come to terms with life back home. Now he sees what matters in life so differently from people back home.
They just talk too much. they have problems, goals, desires that I can't see in the same way as they do. Sometimes I sit with one of them in the little garden of the pub and try to get the point across that this is everything - just sitting in the quiet.  Of course they understand, they agree, they think the same way, but it's only talk...they do feel it, but always only with half of their being, a part of them is always thinking of something else . They are so fragmented, no one feels it with his whole life.

Feeling life with our whole life.
 Facing life changing realities should make a profound difference to how we live.  Central to Christian faith is the sacrifice of Christ which confronts us with the horror of sin and his gift of new life, the possibility of moving from death to life. And that should certainly make a difference to the way we feel life with all our being!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Driving again...and the joy of belonging

This weekend marked the end of what my doctor termed the critical four week stage of my stroke recovery.  And gave me freedom to drive again!  Carol and I celebrated by visiting Ely - its cathedral and market (for dairy free chocolate cake).  Walking in the sunshine, enjoying the autumn colours - just wonderful to be out again.

I know I have a different journey ahead with daily (strong) medicine and some tests still to come but we give immense thanks to God and all our friends who have prayed and supported us through these first four weeks.   I have just tidied all my 'get well cards' away which I looked at each day. They represented support from around the world.  Several had long messages inside.  Emails also came from all over the place.  I was able to give unhurried attention to each with immense appreciation for the trouble taken and love expressed.

One of the special delights was to realize that over a third of my cards and messages came from members of our local Baptist church.  Though we are relative newcomers, coming to the church fresh in retirement, we have been surrounded by such expressions of love and practical support.  Many friends visited me - some people I had never had a proper conversation with before.  Carol and I commented about the solid thrill of belonging to a community of love and kindness like this.  Oh, how thankful we are to belong to Histon Baptist Church - its Lord and his people.   Thank you to you readers too for sharing along the way.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Stroke doziness

Just a note as my state of dozy daze gradually diminishes.  As yet I have no news about the MRI and my heart 24 hour monitor is not until November 22nd. but I am feeling more positive.  And interest in the world around is actively creeping in.  In particular, the 500th. anniversary of the Reformation has given me a push to dip into Martin Luther's sermons - vigorous, blunt, creative and courageous. You can still feel their impact.  He was always concerned to preach in plain language.
When I preach I sink myself deeply down....I have an eye for the multitude of young people, children and servants, of which there are more than two thousand. I preach to them.  
At the same time he was deeply concerned about the authority of Scripture and interpreting it in its' literal, ordinary, natural sense.'  Woe betide anyone who complicated the process of interpretation. This week I also read his vituperative pamphlet against Jerome Emser who taught that Scripture had a literal sense and a spiritual sense - a secret often allegorical understanding.  Emser followed ideas of Origen, Jerome, Dionysius and others.  No, no, no! writes Luther.  His pamphlet is titled: Answer to the Superchristian, Superspiritual and Superlearned Book of Goat Emser of Leipzig.  You really get a feel of the reformer at full flow in his desire to exalt the authority of Scripture over tradition!.

Actually, later he himself was to see a deeper spiritual dimension to texts but he insisted that an meaning deeper than the ordinary must be signaled by Scripture itself. 

So a little reading has connected me this week with this extraordinary figure of Reformation history and in spite of my post stroke state I have been able to celebrate.