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Brennan Manning On Failure

Failure. Now there’s a word for this blog lately. Nothing except links since 5th December. There are reasons, but best not mentioned publicly. Even my pre-Christmas sermons are not here. In some cases, I wrote one and changed to an old one on the spur of the moment.

Anyhow, by way of dipping my toe gently back in the water, a couple at church gave us a beautiful book for Christmas. Lion And Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness Of Jesus by Brennan Manning.  I’ve been savouring chapter 4, ‘The Affluent Poor’. It’s the chapter that contains the words

we were created from the clay of the earth and the kiss of God’s mouth (p 55)

that Julie Miller read, recounted to Emmylou Harris, and which became Emmylou’s remarkable song about God’s longing for humans, ‘Here I Am‘, on her CD ‘Stumble Into Grace‘:

But it’s a passage three pages later that has stayed with me. Here goes:

Children have no past. They abandon themselves to the reality of the present moment. The one who is childlike is not surprised that he often stumbles. He picks himself up again without discouragement, each time more determined to get where he’s going.

I saw that in action last week.  As compensation for not having a summer holiday this year due to our August move, we took them to Lapland UK. Part of the experience was half an hour’s ice skating. I say ice skating, the surface was synthetic in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the event. Rebekah has ice skated once or twice before, with older friends. Mark – this was his first time. Usually he displays my cautious traits, but he went on the ice without hesitation. Five times he fell down. Five times he got up and continued, sometimes with the help of his sister.

They say that failure is not falling, failure is only when we do not get back up after falling. Brennan Manning is someone who knows about that. Despite his faith, he ended up an alcoholic. But God lifted him up and gave him a wonderful appreciation of grace and ‘the fierce love’ of Jesus.

In the summer of 2009, I felt like not getting up again. I was close to quitting the ministry, or at least coming out of it for a few years. I couldn’t say anything about it here on the blog, and I still wouldn’t go public about the causes. I’ll only say that moral failure wasn’t involved – just to prove that at heart I’m probably a Pharisee. It was other people, notably my Chair of District, who helped me to my feet again, and enabled me to find a more fruitful place.

Thank God for the people he uses to lift us up when we fall.

The Farewell Season

As my regular reader knows, my family and I are about to leave this appointment and move to a new one. It’s that time of year for Methodists in the UK: we play Musical Manses. Hopefully, when the music stops, there’s a manse for us. (That’s facetious: the Church covenants to ensure that, when we covenant to leave our old lives behind to follow the ministerial call.)

From the minister’s perspective, it’s a mixed and emotionally strenuous time. You may have grown to love the area, as my family and I have done with Chelmsford, or you may have felt like a fish out of water. You may have developed a special bond with the churches you have served, or you may have been a square peg in a round hole. As you move, you hope and pray your spouse and children will settle in the new town, new house, new school and perhaps the new job. If they settle, you will.

From the congregation’s perspective, if the relationship with the minister has been good, then this season is like a mini-bereavement. The lack of an ‘interregnum’ in British Methodism inhibits the grieving process. If the relationship has not been good, then people need to guard their hearts, and also watch that they do not load too many excessive expectations on the new minister.

So for everyone going through that time at present, here are two songs. Firstly, for those who are sad to leave, here is Jimmy Ruffin and ‘Farewell is a lonely sound’:

Secondly, for those who are relieved to leave, here is Buddy and Julie Miller‘s cover of Richard Thompson‘s ‘Keep your distance’:

Sabbatical, Day 87: A Nothing Day

It’s difficult to know what to report today. With both children off school, interruptions come thick and fast, especially from Rebekah our extreme extravert. She thinks the job description of parent is ‘professional entertainer’. 

Mark, on the other hand, can enjoy company providing he’s offering the entertainment. He has a developing line in cheeky humour, and few things please him more these days than making people laugh. That included the doctor yesterday. However, sustained periods of company drain him (yes, he’s an introvert like me), but the flip side of that is that he can enjoy his own company and occupy himself.

Last night proved rough, with him waking several times. We all slept in today, and I postponed going for my annual fasting blood test at the hospital. Mark was chirpier today when he woke up, but needed more sleep later and also complained of various headaches (which could underline the scarlet fever hypothesis) and other aches and pains. He went to sleep quickly tonight, but has already been awake coughing a couple of times.

So there has been little I could achieve today. The thought of concentrating on some serious reading is out of the question on days like today. Debbie gets behind on tasks she wants to accomplish, too.

We’ve also not heard back yet from the lady with the animal rescue clearing house about the two pairs of cats we’d like to consider.

Probably the main thing I finished today was my batch of Cross Rhythms CD reviews. The last one was not my normal taste in music, but highly commendable if you like hip-hop soul. He’s called Stanley Porter, he used to be a school teacher in the States and I think he deserves a deal with a major label.

Finally, on the music front, a very pleasing arrival in the post today. Lately on the MP3, I’ve been listening to new stuff by the wonderful Irish singer Juliet Turner. She is multi-platinum across the Irish Sea, but barely known here. Perhaps she is best known for her version of Julie Miller‘s ‘Broken Things’ that she played at the memorial service for the Omagh bombing victims in 1998:

She refused to release it as a single, although she did record it for the ‘Across the Bridge of Hope‘ CD that supported the cause.

Last week, I spotted a bargain on Amazon Marketplace. Her debut CD from 1996, Let’s Hear It For Pizza, has become difficult to find. The website for the record company, Sticky Music, seems to have disappeared from the web, and new copies sell for around £20. But this used copy was £4.99. It came today.

If you like what you hear of her above, her Live CD is a good place to start.

Sabbatical, Day 33: Books, Music. And Decisions. Oh No!

What was I going to do with the Amazon vouchers and money given me for my birthday? I soon had some ideas. It doesn’t take me long, the problem is shortening the long list.

There are some books I still need to purchase for sabbatical reading. Not only do I have to pare down this list for financial reasons, I have to recognise the limits of what I shall actually get through during the remaining two months. Some have been recommended or are obvious picks, but if anyone has any thoughts on these books or others in the same field, please leave a comment.

Ministry and Leadership, Ancient and Modern 
Ritva H Williams, Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church

Steven Croft (editor), Mission-Shaped Questions

William H Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

Neil Cole, Organic Church and Organic Leadership

Ministry, Spirituality and Personality Type
Leslie J Francis, Faith and Psychology

Julia McGuinness, Growing Spiritually with the Myers-Briggs® Model

(Both of these were among the books recommended to me last week by Jerry Gilpin.)

Faith and Technology  
Quentin J Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age

Shane Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture and Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith 


And if boks feature large in my ideal spending, so too do CDs. Yes, I’m old enough still to want CDs, not simply MP3s. Actually, it’s the old hi-fii snob in me. I’m waiting for the day when the children are old enough for me to risk replacing the loudspeakers they damaged a few years ago. MP3s are great for convenience and flexibility, but the fidelity of sound is poor.

I’m eyeing up replacing some of the Little Feat vinyl I used to have, regretting the fact that the 4 CD compilation Hotcakes And Outtakes was less than £20 on Amazon recently, but when I went back to buy it, back it went to £43.

There are some new or imminent releases that catch my eye, too. I’m a fan of the UK-based American singer Jeb Loy Nichols, who combines country, funk and reggae amongst other influences. He has a new release called Parish Bar and Andy Gill in The Independent said it was his best release ever.

Or there are the ever-wonderful Buddy and Julie Miller, whose new recording Written In Chalk comes out on Monday. Julie Miller had the distinction of somehow continuing to write painfully honest songs in the CCM world, touching on child abuse and all sorts of things. Buddy is an extraordinary guitarist, singer and songwriter, famous for playing with Emmylou Harris and others. I was recently playing his 2004 release Universal United House Of Prayer to bits. 

Also out on Monday is Quiet Please … The New Best Of Nick Lowe, a songwriter I have admired for years, but I’ve never bought anything of his. Might this be the time?

I only know I can’t buy everything I want! I’ve been totting up prices on Amazon, Amazon Marketplace, eBay, HMV, Play and PlayTrade. Then, in the case of books, I’ve conducted a further comparison at Bookbrain. Once I’ve totted up the cheapest prices, I then have to make the hard decisions. But being a ‘P‘ type in Myers Briggs, I like to keep my options open as long as possible!


Tomorrow holds the CT scan on my sinuses, following the investigation I reported on 19th January. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow, although I won’t know the results and likely treatment (surgery?) until an appointment on the 30th.