becoming a golfist

Today I played 9 holes of golf with a very patient friend from our church. I really enjoyed myself and, with his help (thanks John) I improved to the point where I hit par on one hole  and bogies* on several others.

As I sliced the ball out of bounds, into a pond, across a pond Barnes Wallis-style (really!), into a bunker and in other unintended directions it did occur to me that hitting a ball with a stick should not be that difficult. But there are so many variables to get right simultaneously: grip, stance, swing length, club choice, head stillness, arm straightness, straightness of pull back, distance from ball, width of stance, straightness of back, turn of shoulders… that it is perhaps more of a miracle when the ball goes in the direction intended for the distance intended with the amount of loft intended – particularly for non-multi-tasking blokes.

Those rare moments when it does go right are wonderful, though, and make the rest of it worthwhile.

It strikes me that church is a bit like that: there are so many variables (often called churchgoers / members / ministers) that it is a miracle that it ever goes well. And that’s the point. It should not work as well as it does, but the fact that it does is evidence that God’s at work. When we try in our own strength it’s like trying to hit a golf ball with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back, standing on one leg. It’s possible, but nowhere near as good as if we do it right. God’s Spirit helps us to love one another, to accept and forgive one another, to bless and encourage one another, to speak through and to one another. He’s more than a coach (although he does some of that in his spare time) – he is the one who makes it happen.

Heaven preserve us from trying on our own.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Excuses for a bad golf shot…

A fly landed on my ball right just as I hit it.
A squirrel picked up my ball and put it in the bunker.
A squirrel pushed my ball into the water, the good-for-nothing fluffy-tailed tree rats.
After that last shot, I’m just too embarrassed to try and hit the ball.
All the golf schools I liked were too expensive – so I self-taught.
Damn it, have you no etiquette? Please quit breathing when I swing.
Didn’t you hear that sound in the woods during my swing? It sounded like a duck. What’s that smell?
Ever since I made a hole-in-one, I can’t concentrate.
Golf is about etiquette, not playing well.
Golf isn’t fun if it’s competitive, so I don’t try hard.

*juvenile male sniggering commences at mention of ‘bogies’ and continues when looking at a Danish friend’s post on Facebook (in Danish) (Hi Lise) that included the word ‘snot’. Disappointment and anticlimax when I discover that ‘snot’ is the Danish word for ‘snot’.

of course

Today I spent the morning on a course with Jon Stannard, the new National Director of Viz A Viz Ministries. It was a good course and we covered a lot of ground. It was rough in places, particularly at the start, but perseverance saw us complete it and enjoy a good cup of coffee and some sponge cake at the end. We were putting some green issues together, and attempted to drive churches forward in evangelism. Some chips were enjoyed and on the whole it was above par.

In case you have not realised, it was a golf course. (yes, I know the first paragraph is very cheesy).

But it was also a good opportunity to talk. Mark Twain suggested that golf is a “good walk spoiled” but I have discovered it is a good talk uncoiled – time to chat, to laugh, to encourage, to search (lots in my case), to share and to be unencumbered by other concerns and uninterrupted by all the things and people waiting for you. There is time and space to unwind, relax and to enjoy God’s world (especially longer grass) in the company of a friend.

Golf is not the only way in which we can do this, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that such occasions are essential for my own personal health and sanity. Unless I deliberately spend time with others, enjoying being with them and relaxing, I am in danger of failing to obey the commandment to have sabbath rest, a foundational principle for human existence. All work and no play does not make me a dull boy, it makes me a candidate for burnout. Sabbath rest (especially for ministers) is not often Sunday. It is sometimes alone, but it may also be with others who re-energise us. I had such an experience last week with a friend who took me out for breakfast (thank you SO much Dave!).

So where’s your ‘golf course’? A pub? A coffee shop? A sofa watching TV? A walk in the countryside? A swimming pool? A comedy club? A cinema? A restaurant? Performing magic tricks? Sharing a hobby / interest with others? Playing games? [insert your own ‘golf course’ here].

When was the last time you had a round of golf there? Who was with you? Do you realise that God blessed you through them?

I have to remind myself that God has made me as a human being and that sometimes I need to be a being in order that I am more fully human. This is not primarily so I can be a better do-er. It is so I can become more like the best ‘me’ that God has created me to become.

And…. relax!

Be blessed, be a blessing

Negotiations between union members and their employer were at an impasse. The union denied that their workers were flagrantly abusing their contract’s sick-leave provisions.

One morning at the bargaining table, the company’s chief negotiator held aloft the morning edition of the newspaper, “This man,” he announced, “called in sick yesterday!”

There on the sports page, was a photo of the supposedly ill employee, who had just won a local golf tournament with an excellent score.

The silence in the room was broken by a union negotiator. “Wow,” he said. “Just think of what score he could have had if he hadn’t been sick!”

God’s whisper

A member of our church lent me a book recently. Then, at a Ministers’ meeting, a fellow Baptist Minister shared that he had read this book and found it very helpful. I have often found that when ‘coincidences’ like that happen God is trying to get my attention. So I listened. I continued reading the book.

The book is Wayne Cordeiro’s Leading on Empty. It is an honest and practical book about Christian leadership and the possibility (or likelihood) of burnout. It is written from the author’s own experience of depression and how God brought him through it. He offers some very sensible and helpful advice about what we need to do to take care of ourselves as Christian leaders.

While I was reading the book I was trying to see what resonated with my own experience and personality. I noticed a tendency towards not saying ‘no’. I noticed a sense of frustration when things are not as good as they could be (see yesterday for an example!). I noticed a tendency towards not delegating well.

A couple of weeks ago, while still in the middle of the book, I went to a scheduled hospital appointment to see how my brain implant (see here for an example) is doing. As part of this I have to fill in a series of questionnaires about the impact on my life of the headaches from which I suffer. One of those is assessing the tendency towards depressive illness. Because of reading the book I took more note of my answers than I usually do. I scored 3 out of about 30 (which is good). But I noticed for the first time that the three places where I scored 1 were clues about my own well-being and perhaps were warning signals about areas of my life that I need to take care of.

So I am trying to take care. I am seeking time and space in my diary to relax and be refreshed. (One of the ways I am doing this is by taking up golf – a long, zigzaging walk, some gardening in the undergrowth and 18 moments of relief when the ball finally disappears into the little hole.) I am trying to make sure that I am not out every night of the week. I am aiming to sleep better. And I am going to continue my blogging, which is a way in which I am able to reflect on who I am and my relationship with God.

You may have noticed that God has been rather quiet in the text above. That’s because he has been whispering to me through it all.

What’s he been whispering?

“You’re worth it.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

In my attempts to become a golfist I have been visiting the local driving range once a week. Last time I went I set up in my little stall and got a basket of balls. I was enjoying myself hitting them with different clubs that I have been lent. (No, not clubbing them in the basket, hitting them one at a time off the tee!)

I decided to try and hit some with the driver. I put the ball on the tee. Relax, check grip, check stance, head in the right position, head still, swing back and swing through the ball…

whack!

I managed to hit underneath the ball and it shot upwards. I was under a shelter with a metal roof and the ball pinged loudly off the roof and started ricocheting around inside like it was a pinball machine. People were diving for cover all over the place.

I sheepishly apologised and went to retrieve my ball with a very red face while trying to suppress the laughter.

Thankfully the two people behind me started laughing and were helpless with laughter for a few minutes.

That made me feel better. Honestly. At least my failure had blessed someone – they weren’t as bad as me!

Apology continued

Yesterday Blogger were doing some ‘essential maintenance’ whatever that is, which meant that I was unable to post anything to this Blog. I hope those of you who made the journey through cyberspace yesterday were not too disappointed (or too delighted) to find that there was nothing new here. Perhaps you took the opportunity to look back over previous entries you missed… or perhaps you went and did something more sensible instead.

Anyhoo.

Here’s a lickle joke for you in honour of the fact that I had a golf lesson yesterday:

A golf club (1 wood) walks into a bar and orders a pint of beer.

“Sorry, I can’t serve you,” says the barman.

“Why not?” asks the golf club indignantly.

“Because you’ll be driving later.”

Right, for those of you who are groaning and complaining, you only have yourselves to blame. The opening sentence should have warned you – a walking, talking, beer-drinking golf club????

shudder

One of my favourite cartoon films is Disney’s The Lion King. It may be the last of the great animated cartoons in the classic style (as opposed to computer-generated animation) and has all the right ingredients: great characters voiced wonderfully by great actors; a mixture of humour and pathos; a baddy; love; and catchy songs.

I was reflecting on one of my favourite scenes in yesterday morning’s sermon. You can watch a low quality clip of the scene here.  The hyenas are reflecting on Muphasa (the Lion King) and how even his name makes them shudder. I made the comment that there are times when I have a similar experience with God. When I read passages like Revelation 4 and consider all that is going on in worshipping God it sends a shiver down my spine. I have had that same experience as I have stood on top of Ben Nevis and looked across at the mountains around. I have had that experience as I have prayed quietly on my own. I have also had that experience in church on Sundays, believe it or not! It happens in singing songs and hymns. It happens as I listen to people read the Bible, pray or preach. It happens often when I take communion.

I had one such experience this morning. I subscribe to Scripture Union’s WordLive Bible Studies that arrive in my email inbox every morning and this morning was a continuation of a series looking at Moses leading the Hebrews from captivity in Egypt through the desert towards the Promised Land. Today we are at Exodus 33.

7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped at the entrances to their tents. 11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

The shudder came when I read ‘The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.’ Just think about that for a moment.

That’s incredible!

Moses and God having a cosy chat.

Stunning!

Yet he offers us the same opportunity all day, every day. We can talk with him as one speaks to a friend. WHY don’t I take advantage of that more often?

Jesus and Moses were playing golf one day on the Old Course at St Andrews. This course has a burn (stream) that runs through the course, and on the first hole Moses expressed his doubts that Jesus could make the shot over the burn that protects the green.

“Watch this, Moses, I think I can do it,” exclaimed Jesus. “I’ve seen Seve Ballesteros make this shot, and if Seve Ballesteros can do it, then so can I.”

Moses rolled his eyes and let Jesus try. Sure enough, the ball splashed into the water. Moses parted the water for Jesus, who went in to retrieve his ball.

Jesus, however, was not ready to give up.

“I know I can do this, Moses – I’ve seen Seve Ballesteros do it, and if he can do it, then so can I.”

True to form, however, Jesus’ ball ended up back in the water. Moses parted the water, and Jesus went in to retrieve the ball.

“Look, Jesus,” said Moses. “Try again if you like, but I’m not parting the water for you again.”

“Fair enough, Moses,” said Jesus. “But you know, I’ve seen Seve Ballesteros make this shot, and if Seve Ballesteros can do it, then so can I.”

Once again, Jesus’ ball was in the water. Jesus proceeded to walk upon the water to get it.

Another group of golfers came up behind Moses and saw Jesus walking on the water. “Holy Cow!” one of them said to Moses. “Who does that guy think he is? Jesus ?”

“No,” said Moses, rolling his eyes. “He thinks he’s Seve Ballesteros.”