Queasy like Monday Morning

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my new bus?I am starting a new job this week. It is Sunday night; all the ironing has been done, tomorrow morning’s outfit has been laid out and my bag is packed.

New beginnings have always frightened me. I know I’m not alone in that. Except that I am. People may have similar experiences, they may even share the same experiences, but their reaction to such experiences will always be different, will always be unique to them.

I could explain how I feel, try to find relief in comforting words from others or suggestions on how to calm my nerves, but ultimately it is me alone that will get on that bus tomorrow morning, travel a new route to work and try to settle into a new management and routine.

Or am I alone?

Christianity offers the promise of a walk with God. From the very first book of the Bible, men and women are described as walking with God (Genesis 6:9) Famous passages like “Footprints” paint the idea of God not just walking beside us, but carrying us through the bad times. People far holier than me appear to do this effortlessly, they may talk of times God has spoken to them or when they have ‘felt’ His presence. Others empathise with me and say that this close, almost physical, relationship with God eludes them also, but I think we all wonder how it is that we can truly walk with God.

Here I am now: worrying how I can work with my colleagues and walk with my Lord. I might Google for advice, open the bible at random, phone a friend, but I know that all of these things would be no more than a placebo. There seems to be a lot of blanket rhetoric in literature and preaching – both religious and secular – but rather than paint a roadmap, they offer a mode of transport.

So like those who entered the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, like Socrates and like Neo in the Matrix, I need to know myself. I need to be honest about my faults, failings and fears, the way I react to situations and how to find confidence in myself.

And I think most of all I need to be patient (Hebrews 12:1).

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Returning after a week away

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I am reminded today – after a week away from commuting – that life goes on. Work life, that is.

In the last week I have lost someone I loved very dearly, I have sung drunken carols with strangers, I have been put under the professional spotlight, I have danced until my legs collapsed, I have read many many books and I have made a whole bunch of people smile.

Today though, work goes on. Today I stand on a cold platform with my hours mapped out by deadlines and outputs and management and expectations not my own.

Tempted to sink into a melancholy for the next 3 stops, I pick up the Metro (which demonstrates how low I have sunk already) and read on, becoming steadily more confused… It is dated from 2 weeks ago.

Curiosity trumps self-pity. Why the hell is a two-week old freesheet sitting on my seat as if only recently unfurled?

At East Dulwich a happy-looking man in a Sinatra-meets-Accessorize white scarf bounds onto the seat opposite. I ask him about the paper, does he have a theory perhaps?

His response is that one of the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band used to hoard copies of the Evening Standard and distribute them a year later, watching with a giggle in his heart to see if/when the commuters around him noticed.

This amiable stranger works as an environmental firefighter, minimising the potential damage of ‘green’ disasters. He also has a business card that Patrick Bateman would kill for. Literally.

I walk down the escalator at London Bridge chuckling to myself. What began as a morning full of rejection and worry became something that much more positive.

Experiences like these, I feel, offer some insight into the way God answers prayer. It is not necessarily coincidence, but it cannot be solely my own doing. Perhaps it is choosing to see God’s Kingdom in the smaller – yet still consequential – moments that brings it closer?

Courage in the face of

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I walked past several Greenpeace activists today. Gave them a double-thumbs up as they stood on the railings of the Bank of England with a banner proclaiming:

Greed Green is Good

They gave me a big grin back. I wondered how many people might be looking up at them today and how many might be smiling. I could imagine the corporate types treating them like schoolyard bullies: “If you react, it will only encourage them”.

I adore demonstrations. A few years ago I had a long conversation with Brian Haw outside the Houses of Parliament, not long before he was forced to scale back his operation. He spoke of his beliefs – many founded on Christian principles – and his reasons for being there. He also spoke of his family, his wife and children. I listened, nodded, expressed sympathy and eventually left him, glad that there was someone willing to be so brave, saddened that there weren’t more to support him, wondering if that would help and, of course, rebuking myself for not taking a stance.

There is a part of me that wonders what happens when they need to go to the toilet. The one-day boycott inspired by Rosa Parks in particular. I suppose such practicalities, off-stage in Joe Orton plays, seemingly irrelevant in the innovative real-time TV show 24, and strangely evoking more coyness than the ubiquitous references to sex we plague ourselves with, detract from the salient point.

Forgive me, my twice-daily train has no toilets onboard and I worry that one day we may break down.

Seeing through the glass, darkly

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Today I turn my eyes to my own face and not my neighbour’s. I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:12

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The word for glass is esoptrou (from esoptron – damn wordpress for having no greek alphabet), which can also be used to describe a mirror. Substitute ‘mirror’ for ‘glass’ and I think the whole verse has a new meaning:

For now we look into a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Maybe others have noticed this before, maybe I’ve been asleep when the vicar waxed lyrical on this verse, but I have always read this as looking for God, seeing through a glass darkly to know Him. Now I know it’s not. Now I know that the promise is to know yourself as God knows you. This is not necessarily a comforting thought.

I am on a commute – except I’m not at this moment in time. Instead I am remembering my commute and wondering why I do it. Not the travelling, but the work. Pete Rollins in his latest book relates the story of a priest who finds that everyone he prays for loses their faith. I won’t re-tell the story here because Pete tells it much better (and I’m not sure about copyright laws) but the man who is not the priest in the story is the one I find myself dwelling upon.

To all intents and purposes I am in a role that hard-bitten Christian city types would change to in an instant, were the house prices lower (give it time) and London not quite so expensive. But in this sector there are management failings and public sector schmoozing and bad investment choices, just as in any other. There are wasters on facebook and addictees to Solitaire, there are greedy bastards taking charity money to fund their lifestyle, there are well-intentioned employees with passion but no skills, and there are people like me.

I know I am looking through a glass darkly. Forget darkly, at times it seems opaque. And I wonder what my neighbours see of me.

Commuter FM (First Monday)

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I stood at the door of my flat this morning with last night’s reading in my right hand and my head in my left. The first day of this new initiative and I was already falling at the first hurdle.

But it’s Monday. It’s a crap day. I feel crap, the week’s going to be crap, I might as well read something to cheer myself up…

This must surely be a commuter doctrine: that for even the most cheerful of travellers, the sheer weight of peer pressure and past experience will render your Monday morning crap.

One way of improving my general outlook would be to begin seeing this through. So, as a twenty-first century compromise, I put on my iPod and listened to a Philip Yancey talk from this year’s Greenbelt. Two in fact, by the time I got there and back again. What a delicious irony that he exhorted me at one point to do things I didn’t want to do; using the analogy of the Olympian who trains through sleet and rain for a worthy prize, he asks: “surely something as precious as a relationship with God requires that kind of effort?”

It was a greater comfort to hear someone speaking than my usual playlist. Not least because I know all those songs already. Aside from the odd Bob Dylan lyric or Spice Girls melody, there is little that I would take notice of or find new interest in. A good friend of mine uses his commute to listen to new artists downloaded the night before. I’d like to think I’m trying a theological equivalent.