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  • Going Deeper - with Mother Teresa

    My Own Story

    When Agnes Bojaxhiu was a child in Skopje, no one could have imagined that she would one day become something of a celebrity, let alone be officially recognised as a Roman Catholic saint.  Her dramatic experience of being called, and determination to follow that through, would shape the rest of her life, and prove hugely influential on a global scale 

    • When I look back on my own childhood - however recent or far away that was – how much of the way my life has worked out as I, or others, would have expected?
    • Can I identify any significant moments that informed the direction my life took – achievements or disappointments can each lead to wonderful possibilities
    • As I look back on my life so far, for what am I especially grateful?

    Public and Private

    Like many of the heroes we’ve encountered in this series, Mother Teresa was a complex woman with a strong public persona alongside a troubled and painful private life, which she endeavoured to keep hidden.  After her death, personal letters revealed her struggle with ‘darkness’ and a sense of God’s absence.

    • A lot of us fear being ‘found out’ for who we really are, assuming that people will reject or ridicule us. What is it I keep hidden away for similar reasons?
    • After an intense experience, came silence, and this left Teresa bewildered – had God abandoned her? Why was God silent?  What part do my emotions or feelings play in my faith?  To what extent am I dependent on ‘feeling’ God’s presence in order to believe?
    • Mother Teresa maintained her outward life of prayer, contemplation and worship even when it felt that no-one heard or cared. What might be the benefits of maintaining rhythms of prayer or reflection in my own times of darkness, silence or emptiness?

    Saint or Sinner

    There is no doubt that Mother Teresa’s work touched the lives of vast numbers of people, and inspired many to respond, often sacrificially, in seeking to support or emulate her work.  There is equally no doubt that the work she did, and which continues to be done in her name, is open to justified criticism.  Her determination to enter the experience of the ‘poorest of the poor’ also meant denying them options available to the ‘rich’, such as washing machines. She did what she believed to be right, but perhaps lacked the ability to be self-critical when it came to her work.  At the same time, she tried to see the good (or potential for good) in everyone.

    • How do I view Mother Teresa? How well informed is that view?  How generous or gracious is that view?  How do I hold together truth and tenderness in my evaluation of her or others?  How do I do so in my evaluation of myself?
    • Jesus reminds us that it’s easy to see the speck in the eye of someone else and miss the enormous plank in our own. Do I honestly appraise my own endeavours?  Am I brave enough to invite others to review or critique them with me?  If someone wrote about my life’s work, would they record a saint, a sinner or a blend of the two?  How would that affect the way I live now?
  • Beauty in Brokenness...

    This post comes with a few health warnings...

    Firstly, there is a risk I am breaching copyright by quoting roughly two and a half pages of a four hundred page book, however this is not for commerical gain and I'm not citing anything which, most of it at least, you can't already read online, if you take the time to search for it; that I transcribed it (with the help of a bit of OCR software and a deal of tidying up afterwards) hopefully displays a teeny bit of integrity.

    Secondly, this is Mother Teresa 'uncut' (except where her father confessor/spirutal adviser - to whom it is addressed - redacted text he felt was irrelevant) and for those who prefer the untarnished, shiny version of her story it may be hard to take - in which case, read no further.

    However, as I've researched her, ploughed my way through a three hundred page authorised biography, watched via You Tube Christopher Hitchen's ascerbic crticism of her (at least some of which was probably justified, and now delved into a four hundred page book of her private papers, it has become clear just how important it is to recognise this woman whose private struggles and honest questions echo those of so my people I meet and endeavour to support in the course of my ministry.  Therefore, and using the facility of this blog platform to make you click 'read more' in case you wish to look away, I am sharing this painfully honest example of her writing knwoing that it has the potential to encourage and maybe bless others...

    (Apologies for transcription glitches)

    Read more ...

  • But if you really knew me...

    This evening we thought about 'Impostor Syndrome' and the fear of being found out as inadequate or unsuitable...  It seemed to go pretty well and I'm glad I chose to offer it.

    I'm not going to blog the whole reflection, but I am going to share parts of it, starting with a quote from another blog (citation provided at the end of it ) which expressed so beautifully much of what I wanted to say...

    An extract from a blog post by Valerie Schutlz, an American Roman Catholic writer:

    Recently [-] some glowing praise from a fellow parishioner gave me pause. Catching me after Mass and thanking me for a recent faith-based essay, he said, “You know, I think of you as my spiritual director.”

    I thanked him, but I went away chastened. These were big words, weighty words. I know they were meant to compliment me, but they actually crushed me by adding heft to my Imposter Syndrome. You know about Imposter Syndrome? It’s when a person of any given profession—writer, professor, preacher, parent—secretly suspects that, in spite of his or her accolades and achievements and high standing and seeming expertise in the field, the jig will be up as soon as someone figures out that he or she is full of it. The emperor has no clothes. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Someone is going to realize that I am no expert, that my credentials mean nothing, that I actually have no idea what I’m doing, and I will have to cop to it. Because in my heart, I know that I really am full of it.

    I admit it. I may write well about faith, but I am no good at it. I may sound like I am all about God’s will, but I spend a lot of time ducking it. I would be a wretched spiritual director, because I can’t even direct my own affairs of the Spirit. I don’t pray enough. I don’t volunteer enough. I don’t donate enough. I don’t even write enough. Anyone can tell you that I am a half-assed Catholic. I take it all in, but I don’t give nearly enough back. If I even try to think of myself as worthy of offering spiritual direction, my Imposter Syndrome shouts this fraudulent thought down immediately. I don’t know why anyone ever publishes anything I have to say about heaven and earth.

    https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/confessions-spiritual-imposter Accessed 12/8/17


    After a bit of exploration, we used two short Bible readings, Jeremiah 1: 4 - 10 and 1 John 4:16b-19 to centre our thoughts in scripture, and I said this:

    I could have chosen any number of characters from the Bible who exhibited signs of impostor syndrome, so why did I choose Jeremiah?

    Simply because he uses the phrase ‘I am only...’ in his response to God.  And God replies, ‘do not say, “I am only…’”

    Perhaps this is part of impostor syndrome, low self-esteem, feelings of inferiority… the belief that ‘I am only…’

    ‘Do not be afraid,’ says God, ‘I knew you before you were born, was there at the moment of your conception, and have been with you ever since… I don’t make mistakes, I make people, beautiful, wonderful people of inestimable worth, and you are one of them.  And because of that…’

    Do not be afraid… but we are afraid.  Afraid that someone will out us for what we really are.  Afraid that our ineptitude will lead to disaster.  Afraid because people, or even God, may no longer like or love us.

    The cure for fear, perhaps surprisingly, is not the overcoming of obstacles to confidence, but the security of knowing oneself to be loved… perfect (or complete) love drives out fear.  God loves us with an unending and inextinguishable love.  God loves us so much that, in Jesus, the Christ came to us.  God loves us so much that the Holy Spirit is given us as one who offers comfort in our darkest, lowest moments.

    Which of course is fine, but, if you’re anything like me, you will still experience times of fear or anxiety, inadequacy or impostor syndrome – our love is not yet perfected, not yet complete, we are still God’s ‘work in progress’.  Learning to love and value ourselves as God loves us is a life-time’s work.  Knowing that God loves us just as we are, in all our complex, muddled and messy humanity, offers us the safety we need to keep on learning and growing to love God, and to love our neighbour and ourselves as of equal worth.

    Hope it helps to normalise any such feelings you may have, and encourage you to be kinder to yourself (and perhaps to others too)

  • Going Deeper - with William Carey

    My Own Story

    William Carey grew up in a tiny, rural village where most people lived simple, quiet, unexciting lives working as weavers or farmers, and had little or no ambition.  The opportunity for education opened his eyes to new ideas, and the stories told by his uncle who had travelled to Canada ignited his desire to discover more of the world in which he lived.

    • Are there people I recall from my childhood whose stories or actions significantly shaped my thinking?
    • How much are we defined by the circumstances of our birth, and how much is ‘social mobility’ possible or desirable?
    • William was clearly a curious and intelligent boy, with a real gift for languages, but his practical skills as a shoemaker proved invaluable when he had to manage an indigo plant in India. Which different aspects of my own early experience contribute to my life now, perhaps in surprising ways?  

    More Light and Truth

    Taking the Bible seriously has always been a (self-defined) quality of Baptist life.  The assertion ‘the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word’ is one we hold to be true, yet we can be guilty of Biblicism (placing the Bible above Christ/God) and unquestioning literalism, liberalism or indeed, any other way of reading the Bible.  William Carey challenged the unthinking acceptance of ‘received wisdom’ on the interpretation of Matthew 28: 16 – 20, which ultimately led to the formation of what is now known as BMS World Mission.

    • The Bible is a complex library of texts with internal contradictions, which Christians believe is divinely inspired. When I come to read it, what presuppositions and expectations do I bring?
    • Have I ever had a new insight into a familiar story, passage, or text? How did that feel?  How has it effected my faith and practice and/or my attitude to scripture?
    • If asked to define what the Bible is, what would I say?

    Work Life Balance

    Like so many of the heroes we’ve met, William Carey was totally dedicated to his work to such an extent that his own physical health and the wellbeing of his family suffered.  In our time we hear a lot about work life balance, and of families being stretched to breaking point by the pressures of modern life.  

    • How do I find a healthy balance (assuming I do) that allows me to enjoy family life (whatever that looks like) flourish in my career (as appropriate) and enjoy leisure activities?

    Hobbies and Interests

    From childhood, William Carey loved horticulture, and in India enjoyed discovering new plants, some of which he sent to botanical societies, including Glasgow!   

    • Do I have any interests or activities I participate in for the pure joy they bring, or do I fall into the trap of only doing things that are ‘worthy’? Do I need a hobby; if so, what will it be?
  • The Power of Perseverance (or is it Cussedness?)

    Since I stopped eating meat a couple of years ago, most of my protein has come from porrige, cheese, eggs, milk, yogurt, mushrooms and hummus.  I do cook with pulses, but have to admit that often I'm a bit lazy and will do a mushroom or cheese omelette for quickness.  I like glamorgan sausages, mushroom burgers and other similar products too.

    I have a 'thing' about fake meat, so I don't eat (sic) meat free chicken or bacon, and I am not allowed to use soy products due to a drugs interaction, which together limit my choices more than somewhat.

    However, I have perservered with Quorn things, and now (fanfare) have three 'ready meal' things I am happy to eat, even quite enjoy, and (even bigger fanfare) have discovered that the Quorn 'chunks' can indeed be made into perfectly acceptable meals.

    So, the three things I buy ready made are:

    Quorn mozarella and pesto escallopes (sort of kievs)

    Quorn wild garlic and herb sausages

    Quorn sausage roll - probably has almost as much meat in it as a regular one!

    My two recipes I'm calling 'Qurry' and 'Quasserole'!

    The Qurry isn't quite a curry, due to my many and varied food intolerances, but has a base of onion, garlic, fresh ginger, grated carrot, chopped tomatoes and fresh corriander.  Next time I'm going to try adding curry leaves to see how that works out.  Really quick and easy to make the 'sauce' and the Quorn lumps go in for ten minutes at the end.  Serve with rice or naans.

    The Quasserole is probably more a hotpot or stew but they don't work spelled with 'Qu'!  Onions, carrots, chopped potatoes cooked in a veggie stock (or, in my case, marmite and water, when I discovered Knorr stock cubes contain red pepper) with your favourite selection of dried or fresh herbs.  Again, chuck in the Quorn for the last ten minutes.


    OK, so this isn't a theological or spiritual blog, it's just about me refusing to be defeated by what I still think are unpleasant attempts at fake meat!