four little letters, one big headache

There are four letters that may have caused more groans and rolled eyeballs over the past couple of years than any other. No, not IMHO or ROFL or even KISS*. It’s GDPR. How do you feel every time you see those four innocent little letters grouped together on an agenda?

The General Data Protection Regulation implementation has haunted us as we have struggled to make ourselves compliant. We may have had what feels like endless meetings to make sure we know what we can keep, what we can’t, who we tell about what we are keeping and what to do about the information we can’t keep. Many churches have had to introduce a new role of GDPR Compliance Officer (or something similar) – the sort of post that appeals to a unique brand of people who love rules and regulations and working out how to apply them in minute detail.

Eastern Baptist Association is also seeking to be compliant (under the watchful eye of our Secretary) and last week we got around to the filing cabinets I inherited from my predecessor. She had an amazingly detailed filing system. She had even filed all of the route printouts from Google Maps (pre-dating sat navs) in case she needed to do those routes again! When I started four and a half years ago we thinned down the amount of paperwork from two filing cabinets to one, but GDPR made us look again at what had been retained. And the contents of the remaining four filing cabinet drawers were ruthlessly thinned out to fill less than half of one drawer! My office floor was hidden underneath the mound of papers and earliuer this week some nice men from a local confidential shredding service came and collected it all.

I have to be honest to having mixed feelings about it. Not a sense of nostalgia for the paperwork – I have hardly referred to any of it in the time I have been a Regional Minister – but there is a sense that something of history may be lost in the compliance with these regulations. At the same time I also felt a great sense of relief that the job had been done, and I am now wondering what to do with all of the empty drawers…

And this got me thinking about applying GDPR to my life. No, not deleting memories and informing people what I know about them. I am thinking about how God’s Disciple Put Right (yes, it is a bit contrived but bear with me). We all accumulate habits, thoughts, ideas and bias during our life – much of it unconsciously. And while we will deal directly with those things that are obviously sinful there are others that build up almost unnoticed, like paperwork in a filing cabinet and we never question them. They can sit there, unnoticed for many years but they are not good to hold onto.

To comply with GDPR we have to ask ourselves questions about the information such as: do we need to have it; are we allowed to have it; and how are we storing it? In the same way I think it is helpful for us to consider questions about ourselves such as: is this attitude helpful; does this habit bless me; how are my actions affecting others…? It’s not always easy to ask ourselves these things so it’s good to make ourselves accountable to someone else to whom we give permission to ask the awkward questions. In my role as a Regional Minister I have both a Spiritual Director and a Professional Supervisor as well as really good colleagues and an amazing wife. I have given all of them permission to ask me awkward questions, challenge me if necessary and help me be more like the follower of Jesus he wants me to be. And most of all God’s Spirit in us helps with the process in the way he resonates with our spirit, prompts others to speak into our lives and helps us to consider how we are doing. Who can help you and the Spirit with your GDPR?

piles, files and dustbins

In my former incarnation as a lawyer the partner who oversaw my work had piles. No, not like that, he had piles of files. He had one pile of files on the left hand side of his desk that he had to deal with and a pile on the right hand side of the desk of files he had dealt with. In his mind it was a clear and simple system. But to anyone coming into the office it looked chaotic because even though files moved (via the space in front of him) from one pile to the other to the untrained eye it looked as if the piles never moved. And there were many occasions when his long-suffering secretary would have to rummage through the piles when the need of a file became more urgent.

paperworkI developed my own system based on that approach, but I resolved to keep the piles small and deal with them as soon as possible. I think that approach has stayed with me. Today I try to have regular ‘dustbin days’.

The idea of a dustbin day was that were would be scheduled days when I cleared out my inbox; desktop and rubbish bin. And in those days these things were real, tangible things not virtual places on a computer! The purpose of having these regularly is to make sure that you don’t overlook things that find themselves at the bottom of a pile, to make sure you don’t keep putting off that awkward visit or phone call, and to make sure that you keep yourself (relatively) organised. It also enables you to get rid of the clutter and unnecessary things that take up space in your office and in your mind: there is something cathartic about throwing away something you no longer need.

I still try to have dustbin days. I like the opportunity to go through things that have been gathering literal or metaphorical dust and dealing with them. I like the feeling of having a single figure number of emails inbox (and even, occasionally, having an empty inbox!). I like being able to see the top of my desk. I like having a tidy space to work in. And I like the corresponding tidying that takes place in my mind as I deal with things.

And I need to have even more regular spiritual dustbin days. On the advice of my Spiritual Director (he’s perhaps a bit like Yoda in his wisdom and perception but not as small or green; he speaks conventionally and is not so good with a light-sabre) I have been trying to finish each day with a spiritual exercise. It goes something like this:

I ask myself two questions.

How have people and experiences today have energised, blessed and encouraged me and where have I sensed God at work in them?

How have I been drained and diminished by people and experiences today and where do I need God to see God at work at work in them?

I then pause and pray for God’s Spirit to give me the grace and wisdom to respond appropriately to both answers, and I then leave those things with God.

It has been helpful to me in reflecting on my day. It has been helpful as a sort of spiritual dustbin day to deal with emotions and thoughts that are hanging around from the day. And it is helpful to leave them with God so I don’t have to have my mind trying to think about them and process them when I want it to let me go to sleep.

If good administration is important, how much more important is good soul-administration?

Be blessed, be a blessing.