One of the Biggest Honours I Have Ever Had…

Almost one year ago, one of my best friends called me and said, “You know Tash (his eldest daughter) is getting married in Tuscany next August?”

“Yes, I know. You told me a few months ago,” I replied, instantly wondering why he was reminding me.

“Well what you don’t know is you’ve been on a shortlist of four and she’s been asking God for a sign as to who she should have to officiate at the ceremony.” he went on, my curiosity climbing higher and higher. “And she believes she’s had a sign and she wants you to do it!” he exclaimed.

I laughed out loud, and continued to laugh for the rest of that day. And for a good number of days after that.

The plan was as follows: the engaged couple – Rob & Tash – were going to ‘do the legal bit’ in a London registry office shortly before flying out to Italy, and then have a full-blown, Christian ceremony in the middle of the beautiful Tuscan hills surrounding the medieval town of Volterra.

I was highly flattered, honoured and massively excited at the prospect of marrying my friend’s eldest daughter and her beloved fiance, who I had not even met at this point.

I have led plenty of church meetings in my time but this was going to be a first, and I was thrilled at the prospect of such a task.

Come the day itself, there was all the usual last minute rushing around, changes of plan (except for the ‘main plan’ of course) and the wonderful sense of building anticipation.  In a bid to remain highly organised,  I wanted to remind the groom’s sister to step up to perform her reading as soon I had finished the prayer that would end my Address. I thought I spotted her, and so went to give her the gentle reminder.

“Remember to come up and do your reading as soon as I finish the prayer then, yes?” I quietly said to the increasingly nervous-looking lady. Her reply surprised me to say the least, “Er…I’m not coming up anywhere, and I certainly won’t be doing a reading,” she said in that hushed tone that carries with it an air of assertiveness that tells you there is no persuading this person.

It quickly transpired that this was NOT the groom’s sister. In my defence, I had only met the lady in question briefly the previous evening – but still, it didn’t bode well for other things I would have to remember… I comforted myself with the fact that it would be hard to make the same mistake with the bride and groom.

Thankfully, the service went wonderfully well. A truly beautiful version of Amazing Grace was played – the sound was heavenly and I was almost overcome with emotion before we’d even started!

Here’s a snippet of the Vows that my wife tried to video

Tash, the bride – a truly beautiful person, inside and out – and her dashing groom, Rob, were brilliant throughout. The day eased into the evening reception at a wonderful villa nestled in the Tuscan hills, just outside Volterra. The sky was one of those ‘Artist’s palette’ perfections that you truly marvel at – I paused during one conversation to point out the sheer beauty of it.

Truly moving, as well as hilarious, speeches were made; the cake was cut (after having been made before our very eyes); the stage was set for the first dance at around midnight, accompanied by a great two-piece band who had flown in from Canada, and the party truly began. At the point where they played Sweet Caroline, the bride’s entire family were all dancing at the front and, for a divine moment, it was as if they were in a kind of ‘wedding heaven’ – inviting anyone who was there to partake in their unbridled joy.

I’m glad to say that many of us did and it was genuinely wonderful.

I was further heartened by the several times people told me how lovely they thought the service had been, when normally they couldn’t wait for that part to end, and to get on with the reception.

Best of all, (for my ego at least!) the groom told me later on, that a number of different people had asked him in all seriousness, “Where did you hire that Ibiza rock star vicar from?”

Our two weeks in Tuscany before the wedding had obviously helped with the so-called Ibiza look and as far as the rock star bit was concerned, I was glad I had chosen not to hire a dog collar for the day.

It was definitely one of the biggest honours I have ever had.

Will it be a one-off? Probably… but I’m open to offers!

 

 

 

 

How to Deal with People Judging You

“I’m not interested in who judges me, God will judge me one day. That’s the only thing I’m interested in. What other people say about me, I couldn’t be less interested in.”

This is what Jurgen Klopp, said recently during a press conference, after being asked what he thought about being judged on how many trophies he may or may not win at Liverpool Football Club.

As you know, I am interested in football and the various lessons we can learn from it.  I have loved watching Liverpool since I was  a young boy. Now I find myself not only enjoying their highly entertaining brand of football but also loving the things that their manager, Jurgen Klopp, says at press conferences.

What I love the most however, is the way he treats his players, staff and the incredibly loyal, passionate fans.

He is famous for his exuberant celebrations, his sprints down the length (and on one occasion across the pitch) in order to embrace his ‘boys’ who play their hearts out for him, week in, week out. I think he acts like a wonderful father towards his players, who looks for any and every opportunity to celebrate what his children have achieved. He alway protects them, even when they make a mistake. He never exposes them or publicly rebukes them, unlike how Jose Mourinho would often do…before he got fired.

He does not deny that he will be judged. He doesn’t deny there is pressure in a high profile position like his. His secret I believe, is he doesn’t let it get to him because that is not where he places his focus.

“For me, it’s no pressure (to win trophies), it’s only opportunity.”

So my question to you as you think about this is: How do you think God (or any other word you may choose to use) will judge you? And then, how can you allow that knowledge to liberate you from the fear of judgement that may and often does come from your fellow human beings?

 

The MeAttitudes

Blessed are the arrogant, for theirs is the kingdom of their own company;

Blessed are the superstars, for the magnificence in their light, we understand better, our own insignificance;

Blessed are the filthy rich, for you can only truly own that which you give away, like your pain;

Blessed are the bullies for one day they will have to stand up to themselves;

Blessed are the liars, for the truth can be awkward.

The words above are written by Kendrick Lamar, the American rapper and are sandwiched between two tracks on the new U2 album Songs of Experience.

When I first heard them, I loved the way that a small part of Jesus Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount – known as the Beatitudes – had been adapted for our times and in such a way that you cannot possibly listen to the words and not be challenged; just as the original message was a challenge, as well as an encouragement, to the people 2,000 years ago…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Reading these verses again now makes me think of how relevant this message is today – irrespective of what you believe or think about Jesus. And irrespective of what you believe or think about Kendrick Lamar, the man has delivered an extremely insightful, dare I say, prophetic perspective on so much of how the world we live in today is controlled.

Me, myself and I are usually the only ‘three-in-one’ people we often consider in our daily push for prominence. Like so many things in life, we all too easily miss the good stuff because we are too consumed with possessing what we think will make us happy.

Which leads me nicely to the original Greek meaning of the word blessed. The Greek word makarios means to be blessed, to be happy to the degree that you are so completely content, that you do not need anything else at all. The island of Cyprus was once referred to as ‘Makarios’ because it was believed that if you were fortunate enough to live there, you would never want or need to leave its shores.

So, my question is this: Where do you currently stand in relation to the MeAttitudes… or the Beatitudes? And are you happy?  Is there anything from either list that you aspire to?  Why not take a few minutes to contemplate these powerful verses?

P.S. If you want to listen to Kendrick’s words, they come at the end of the track Get Out of Your Own Way and then go into the intro to American Soul from the album Songs of Experience by U2.

It’s Not Always As It Seems…

My wife and I have been away for a few days this week, celebrating our first wedding anniversary as well as her 40th Birthday.

Whilst enjoying the stunning views from a hotel bar (see below), my wife suddenly exclaimed and we both observed something rather unusual…

St. Ives 2

…to our left, the gentle waves were clearly lapping towards the right, but strangely to our right, the waves were gently lapping towards the left – moving in the completely opposite direction (see below)It took us some time to figure out why this was so. We moved in our seats so that we could try to look around the central pillar but couldn’t ever see the point at which the water moving in opposing directions met.  We talked about the possibility of it being a sort of mirage or optical illusion… we tried to work out the science and guessed it might be something to do with currents?

PicShells

Do you have any idea what the answer to this scientific/visual anomaly was?

My wife’s second exclamation of the evening was the solution and we fell about laughing for a fair while, reflecting on what ‘donuts’ we were.

The image on the right was – in fact – a reflection! It was not a window at all, but a mirror!

In life, there are many occasions when things are not as they seem.

There was the once famous anti-racism police poster from the 1980s below – read the caption for details.

anti-racist Police Poster

Then there is the story told by the late Stephen Covey of him sitting behind a man on a bus who appears to have no control over his young children. Finally, he asks the man to try and keep his children quiet. The man politely apologises but explains they have all just left his wife (their mother) in hospital, where she is dying of advanced cancer.

I am sure that we all have our own collection of stories where the situation turned out to not be quite as we first thought.

It may be a message you have received and for some reason, it comes across as rather hostile instead of the warm and friendly tone you are accustomed to. Or perhaps you see a situation unfolding and you make a decision based on your skewed perception.

Things are not always as they seem and, invariably, we may do well to reserve judgement until we know for sure in which direction the water is really moving.

The School Must Need Fumigating!

This week, most children and teachers went back to school, and not a day too soon most parents will declare!

Most schools however, opened a day early for an INSET day.

If you’re anything like me, the first time I heard about this was when my daughter was due to start school. I was convinced people were saying, “Tomorrow is an insect day.”

“The School Must Need Fumigating!” I said to myself and believe it or not, a long time elapsed (I can’t remember precisely how long) before I realised that it is in fact, INSET (In-Service Education & Training) day.

Since then, I have had the privilege of going to my former secondary school to speak about the benefits of creating a coaching culture in school on an INSET day, and there were definitely no insects there – at least not in the main hall!

I found this short video entitled What Do Teachers Do on School Inset Days?

Sadly, no one confessed to what I used to think they do.

Perhaps I really was the only one?

 

Divide and Be Conquered

I was in a team meeting the other day and a challenge to the banter that was being banded about came from a new member.

All it came down to was this: in a previous organisation he had worked in for some time, the staff members joked a great deal about “the guys in sales…” (or whatever department was different to theirs) and before long, he realised that the entire organisation or so it often appeared, was very divided in their thinking.

Silo mentality on steroids some might say. At least that is where you eventually end up.

pit-rase-against-race-religion-prejudice-ahainst-prejudice-divide-and-conquer-we-must-not-let-that-happen-here

Everyone in the team meeting took a few seconds to digest this challenge. and whilst there is always going to be someone else in another department, we thought carefully for a few minutes about how we could adjust our language.

So instead of something like, “The media guys really need to get their act together because their lack of speed is a real problem for us…”

How about, “What can we do to help the media guys so that we are all on the same page?”

Choose to unite as much as possible or divide and be conquered.

It’s not a difficult choice really.

From Uganda with Love

There’s something special about travelling to a very different country and I have always loved it. Whether it is the sheer chaos of taxi drivers literally falling over themselves to grab your bag at the airport arrivals or the desperately poor condition of the roads, or the seemingly endless army of roadside vendors attempting to make a living by selling their wares to what must be an average of maybe one car in a hundred?

Uganda has all of these exciting, terrifying and desperately sad signs and so much more to make you feel like you truly have landed on another planet. It is hot and humid all year round, hovering around 30C.

Not only are the roads littered with potholes the size of bomb craters but there really are no ‘Highway Code’ rules that anyone abides by. On a single lane two way road for example, if a driver is running out of patience, they will simply create a third lane – dodging the oncoming traffic.

The ubiquitous motorbikes (affectionately called “borda bordas” due to the suggestion by the locals that they were universally used by people crossing borders into Uganda) that serve as an alternative taxi for many people are even worse. If they get bored (maybe this is the real reason they are called borda bordas!?) of sitting in the perpetual traffic jams, they will simply ride up the pavements – usually reserved for pedestrians but woe betide if you should try to protect this piece of concrete for yourself and your fellow walkers. They will simply ride right up behind you until you move aside through fear of them catching your heel.

Kampala traffic

On my first night in Kampala, my friends and I were walking down the said stretch of pavement and whilst on this occasion we were not accosted by a motorbike, we were confronted by the sight of a baby girl, simply left in the middle of the pavement. It was impossible to tell you this baby girl belonged to, whether a parent or guardian had simply popped into a shop and would be back soon or if the truth was a whole lot worse.

I am here in my capacity as a part-time fund-raiser for my favourite charity, Viva. Next time, I will explain a bit more about what they do and why I have come to Uganda.

For now at least, let me leave you with my favourite bumper sticker – of which there are an enormous variety – which said: “No condition is Permanent”.

Wherever you are this morning, be encouraged that just as the people of countries like Uganda, there is always a way forward.

 

 

When I Had No Socks

When I was eighteen years old, I lived on a kibbutz in Israel for seven months. One of my favourite aspects of this alternative life was the freedom to walk around in bare feet for a lot of the time I was there.

It was fantastic! There is something so wonderful about simply not wearing anything at all on your feet.

Compare that with not having socks in the middle of Winter, when you truly need them.

I am thankful that this has never been my experience.

But the other day I witnessed something truly extraordinary…

A man was walking along the pavement in a quiet street in London, when he decided to stop to examine his feet. As he leaned on the wall of the bridge that overlooked a railway line, he pulled off his socks, as both were thoroughly spent. Worn out, and without much material left to speak of.

It was a quiet, leafy, suburban road – not the sort of place you would expect to see someone in such a poor state of affairs. The man did not look obviously homeless, with no bags, rucksack or even the seemingly ubiquitous canine companion to help him along the difficult journey he had found himself on.

In fact, it would have been perfectly excusable to have driven past him without even noticing there was a problem, were it not for the fact that he was standing on one leg whilst examining the afore-mentioned feet.

One or two cars did simply drive past, oblivious to the poor man’s podiatry plight in the same way that most of us travel through much of our lives with no idea whatsoever of the suffering of others.

Socks for the homelessBut one car drove past him and for some reason, a few hundred yards up the road, it turned around and came back towards him. The car pulled up alongside the man, who by now, was hobbling along the pavement, having fired the now useless socks and appeared to be deciding whether it was more comfortable to walk with his shoes on or off.

I heard some words spoken and then a hand came out from the open window of the front passenger door.

The hand was holding a pair of socks and the man was clearly extremely grateful for this spontaneous demonstration of charity, or love, or simply spotting a need and responding without any thought; other than to relieve the suffering of this complete stranger.

What does this say about our society today?

Are there more people than ever before since the days of Dickens, without the basic necessities of daily living – so much so that they are now wandering the quiet streets of outer London?

Or are there a few more people who are ready, willing and available to literally give their socks away to a complete stranger, whenever they see a need?

Probably a bit of both.

I hope however, it is more the latter and I also hope I can become more like the person I saw offer a hand the other day.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Rejection is Merely Opinion

Having had my own fair share of rejection, I have come to believe that one of the best methods of opposing the sometimes relentless feelings that follow hard on the heels of whatever bad news has landed on your lap is simply this:

Their rejection of me (or my work) is merely their own opinion.

And it can hardly work (excuse the pun) any other way in truth can it?

But it means you have to make a choice.

You can choose to be identified by their opinion and feel rejected, say you’ve been rejected, be rejected and ultimately remain rejected.

Or, you can recognise it for what it is…

Someone else’s opinion – of which they are entitled to.

But it doesn’t mean they are right or more importantly, that what they have said or decided is the truth, the final word on who you are, or how good your work is.

You may well have heard about the now infamous rejection letters that JK Rowling received when she first tried to gain some interest in her Harry Potter story. Pity the agents and publishers who turned her away I say.

Pity even more, in some ways, the poor people who rejected her more recently, when she submitted her first crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, Mercifully for them at least, the actor who reads out their letter of rejection to her does not mention their name at the end. Needless to say, the book was eventually taken on and sold over one million copies and is being adapted into a BBC drama series.

So, the next time you are “rejected” for a job, or dumped by a partner, or your latest piece of artistic genius doesn’t make it past the first hurdle, remember, it is merely their opinion.

boy rejected

 

 

We Can All Be Heroes…

I, like many others I am sure, saw the ‘Google Doodle’ this morning and wondered who on earth Mary Seacole was?

Well you can read all about Mary Seacole here and discover that not everyone think she is a hero at all. In fact, as I read the article, it seems the only reason some people think she is not a hero is because she did not go the official route.

But isn’t that what heroes do I wonder?

We can all be heroes I believe but almost invariably it requires going off piste so to speak. Or another way to put it…

Go out of our way.

Do whatever action we are feeling compelled to do – whatever the cost to ourselves.

quote-in-the-film-world-we-can-all-be-heroes-in-the-real-world-where-heroism-can-cost-you-john-rhys-davies-142-72-72So in this celebrity-crazed, fashion-focussed, tech-driven day to day existence we live in, it is the ones and twos – often far from regulation, unqualified, maybe even maverick characters who tend to step up and make a difference.

I know of one such person – a single mother in my local church – who watched with horror as the events in Syria first unfolded about three years ago. I’m sure she had a lot on her plate already but chose to do something, anything to help those who literally have nothing on their plate. She decided to organise a collection of clothes for the bitter winter in Syria. She filled a lorry load two and a half weeks earlier than she planned. Since then, she has sent off more than twenty three other lorries. And she keeps on sending them.

Her name is Samara and you can read about this modern day hero, and perhaps even make a donation. Check out the website Samara’s Aid Appeal.

Even better, find out today how you can be a hero to others.