Lessons from a snowflake generation

A homeless person (not the one in the story)

I often chat with a young person I know as they walk to the train station out of a rough neighbourhood that they work within. She is part of the ‘snowflake generation‘, the generation that gets derided by many of those from my own generation.

We chat and she walks, and we were doing that the other day when something went wrong. Suddenly I hear a commotion, a lady is ranting in the background. ‘I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough.’ Fear rises in me for my young friend as the phone goes quiet. Then I clearly hear what happens. A distressed lady who lives on the street with her partner has had her cup of coins stolen from her whilst she slept. Yes, whilst she slept on this rainy cold day someone has stolen the one thing between this woman and another day without food. My friend says sorry to her, as though this is my friend’s fault. ‘Here, it’s all I have, and it’s only 60p but you can have it.’ Then suddenly I hear my friend say. ‘Can I give you a hug’, and an embrace happens. Compassion mixes in with dampness, tears and body odour as they embrace. Suddenly she is walking again and through her sobs, we return to our conversation. Three days later the phone goes and it’s that time again. My friend the snowflake is on the way home and heading towards a shop. ‘What food do I buy for someone on the street’, she says. It seems for her a hug and a few coins are not enough. She has some money put aside and her intention is to bring these new found friends some food when she can. What a snowflake!

If you know one story from the teachings of the carpenter it is likely to be the parable that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. You can read that story in Luke 10:25-37, but there is no need to as it is enacted in the text above. Every generation seems to believe that they were the golden generation and the youngsters that follow don’t know they have it made. However, it seems to me that the grouping together of a people under one banner, and assigning that group a set of attributes has caused nothing but pain in our history. Black, Jew, foreign, homeless, what images come to mind of the distress caused by assigning attributes to a group? Yet we continue to do just that as we label our sons and daughters the snowflake generation. From the group that I was privileged to be involved with, who would be given the label snowflake there are many different stories. There are two nurses, a teacher and a youth worker, all of whom had to fight to get to the point of being able to serve. There is a young man on a mission of compassion, a campaigner for social justice, and the man who reaches out to serve those who are so desperate they sell their own bodies. There are other stories as well, too many to list. Snowflakes every one of them!

In the original, Jesus is weaving the story of the Samaritan because He has been asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He tell’s the story and finishes with, “Go and do likewise.” Perhaps as we look around our world today and ponder what might improve it. As we look at all the fake news and wonder how did we end up here. As we ponder our part in this world being a better place there is a lesson to be re-learned from a snowflake generation. Perhaps we might take a look at them and go and do likewise.

Failure

Failures especially public failures are an embarrassment in our society and to be avoided at all costs. So let me say publicly I have failed a lot recently. Which perhaps is why my thoughts today turned to a chap I increasing relate to. Born into a blue collar family he grew up strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times, a brash young man with a temper problem. Failure. He walked away from the family business as a young adult. Failure. He chose to follow a charismatic preacher, teacher and mentor. It wasn’t plain sailing though, theology and mission and he were not natural companions. He would often answer incorrectly when questioned by his mentor on how best to reach out to people for God. Failure. Frequently chastised by his mentor, he seesawed between dedicating his life for God and at other times being frustrated with God. Failure. This culminated in him turning on his mentor and walking away from his faith at a crucial part of the growth of his church. Failure. Who was this failure? Well you may well have guessed by now the man I am speaking of is St Peter the apostle, his mentor was of cause Jesus.

fI have too have failed in ministry, having recently invested emotionally and materially into one area of public outreach. I was convinced there was a need in this area, but we had a very poor response. So I tried harder, pushed it wider, prayed more, but still no response. So we tried again and kept trying and praying but without much in the way of response. Then we quietly shut it down. Failure. Even this weekend I have failed personally as I competed in a triathlon. I had publicly sought sponsorship and encouragement for the 1.1 mile swim, 33k ride and 10k run. I did not complete the triathlon, I had to retire from the swim succumbing to the mental mind games that had plagued my training. Failure.
I can almost hear you even as I type, that is not a failure, you tried your best in the triathlon, you tried your best in the outreach. You completed the rest of the triathlon, you don’t know how you impacted the few who you reached out to in that program. Indeed my own family have misunderstood me in this area and become upset as I have spoken of failure. But failure is not the end, and if we do not acknowledge failure how do we move forward into success? If, as I so often preach we are not defined by our success but by who we are in relationship with our God, then neither are we defined by our failures. If that is true, then why be so scared of acknowledging failures, why not embrace failure?

Embracing failure can bring a freedom to try new things and learn from them. It is something that in the Church I believe we need to do more. For example my triathlon failure:

  • Why did I fail? – I failed because of mind games. I knew this was my weakest of the three disciplines. It was not general fitness, indeed I went on to complete the ride and run, so the fitness levels were on track. I failed because of a lack of confidence.
  • What was good in this failure? – I broke through the initial despair of failure to go on and encourage my running mate and completed the remainder of the triathlon. I completed a duathlon, and my fitness levels now are light years away from what they were six months ago.
  • What can I learn? – I failed because of confidence in one area. That’s not great, but if I over train in this area beyond what I need then I will become more confident.
  • What next? – I know I can do this, it’s not beyond my capacity. Then why not book the next triathlon taking what I have learnt with me.

I have completed the same set of questions with my ministry program failure and leant a great deal from it that I can implement into church ministry life. Had I not admitted failure then I would have not have taken that learning forward.

Incidentally when Jesus was resurrected you will remember that he visited Peter on the beach. Jesus did not tell him that he had not failed, but simply encouraged Peter that his was moving in the right direction with the right motives. Peter was given the job by Jesus to grow the church. He became a great evangelist, preacher as well as a prolific church planter. Once again this was not plain sailing, he often had doubt’s, made mistakes, was imprisoned and eventually killed because of his faith. He failed and succeeded, it was just part of life or the journey God had for him. However he achieved way more than he would have done without admitting failure.

Perhaps us church leaders of the current age, can learn from our own failures, as well as those of the original church planter. If we dare speak the word out loud.

Photograph of lake copyright Ben Mizen - BMiz https://flic.kr/p/fTYzCs

Doubts

I am writing this the morning after the Brownlees’ took gold and silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics. In two days I will be completing in my own Olympic distance triathlon. I am under no illusion that I will be completing that in somewhat more time than the superhuman times that the brothers do. But I will be giving it my all.
Three days ago I was in a different place, I had a different mindset. I decided that I really needed to swim in a lake with the wet-suit on, and daft cap aloft, before the big day. I had been swimming 1 – 1 ½ kilometres in the pool so although not my favourite part of the the tri I knew I would complete it. However I had not experienced the lake and so felt I should do it. It worked out that I should have done it a lot earlier. The moment I entered the lake everything felt wrong, doubts rose up in me. I pushed them down, I was in the correct kit, I swam, this was not a problem. The doubts continued to bubble away down there somewhere. I swam around a short circuit, perhaps one hundred metres. It was hard, much harder than I had expected, the doubts rose again. I pushed them away with a quick exchange of bravado with the lifeguard, and headed towards the big circuit. The rhythm was out, the environment was different, my breathing was all over the place, this was not going to work. Reaching the first buoy I decided I was not going to make it and so looped around and headed back towards the shallows. The guard read this as me needing help and so headed out towards me in the canoe to drag me in. My humiliation was complete. I left the water confused and defeated. Steve, the operator of the lake, encouraged me to do some shorter loops, offering advice and encouragement. I did a couple of short laps in much the same manner and then left with my doubts and fears intact and reinforced.
I emailed my running companion Hilmar about the swim.

…It is seriously different to the pool and I now have big concerns that I could do 1k… …I may have to be sensible and make a call about doing the novice or postponing all together. The cycle and run I am ready for so they are not a problem, but the open water is very challenging.

Himlar did not respond by email, but instead called, to encourage me. ‘I am sure you can do it, it can’t be that different, let’s go again Thursday and see how we do.’ So we did, Hilmar left work early and met met me at the lake. I entered with some trepidation remembering Steve’s advice, but this time the short loop felt better. The pace was more appropriate, my breathing was smooth, even the crocodile eyes were working. I tried a bigger loop, the same experience. Hilmar had ignored the small loops and gone of swimming the big loop, even though by his own confession he had done way less training than I had. So I started out on the big loop. Reaching the first buoy, I turned and headed for the second and completed three loops. I had completed the distance I would need to complete, where were the doubts, what was so different today compared to Tuesday? I left the lake with a fresh mindset and mindset that said we can do this.

I joked with Hilmar on the way home that this experience had sermon written all over it. Here I am on a journey preparing for the prize of completing my first triathlon, and the lessons I was learning could be mapped directly to my life journey and goals. Just a few that come to mind from my experience this week:

  • People can look the part but still have doubts and fears.
  • The mind is a powerful tool which can propel you or paralyse you on the journey. Be careful what you feed it, and what you allow others to feed it.
  • Journeying in community is key to reaching the end.
  • Setbacks are part of the journey, not a reason to stop.
  • Planning and preparation may not be all you need, but they are important.
  • Listen to those who have journeyed down the same road before you.

I am sure there are more learning points, and they could all have their own blogs written about them. But for now I shall take another lesson and reflect upon that in my greater journey. That would be the fact that I have not yet actually done the tri, and yet have already learnt so much that I can use in my day-to-day journey. So we don’t’ need to have reached the goal, before reflecting and using what we have learn’t. Journey well, and reflect as you go.
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Blatant piece of promotion: You can still sponsor me for the tri at: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/maxcross

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Photograph of lake copyright Ben Mizen – BMiz https://flic.kr/p/fTYzCs

CVM Triathlon

1.1k Swim, 33k Bike ride, 10k run. Why wouldn’t a bloke in his late forties decide this is the best way to spend a Sunday morning? Well that is what I am doing on the 21st August 2016. I am raising cash for CVM www.cvm.org.uk who are an organisation that exist to show men the real challenge of living this life in a way that their God would have them live it. Bringing the values of that decision into their life and the world around them. It really is a great organisation and one that I want to support to the best of my ability. Thanks for your interest, now click this link to sponsor me ;-)

Thanks in advance, Max.

You can sponsor me here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/maxcross

A Crutch For The Weak

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. Psalm 88:1-2.

If you make a habit of speaking to those who choose not to follow The Teacher, it’s not long before you will hear the rationalisation that faith is just a crutch for the weak. I’m not sure how true that is, or how often that is the primary motivator of those who choose to have faith. I suspect it is less often than the accusers might suggest. What I do know is that my faith is not based upon that, however my God is a crutch when I am weak.

It is Thursday 21st July 2016 and I sit here in a familiar space. I am sat with my mother in a hospital ward with my father in a hospital bed nearing the end of his life. Forty years ago as a young boy I was sat in the same place, scared and with the weight of the world upon my shoulders. My dad was going to die and as the eldest I was the head of the family. No faith, no crutch, I remember crying out to a god, any god in a superstitious panic fuelled prayer. There was no comfort in that prayer only desperation and angst. Whether that prayer was heard or not, I have no idea, but he did not die. Now a grown man with a family of his own, I sit here in that same place. Once again I have no power over the situation, I am at the end of what I can do, at the end of me. Now I pray to my God, my Leader, my Saviour, my Comforter.

Psalm 88 came up in my Bible reading this morning as I sat beside my father. Was this reading specifically for me? Probably not, I follow the same pattern of readings as many others. However it was plucked from a library of books in which there are many reminders for those in need to turn towards their God in their time of need. Tomorrow there will be another reminder, and the next day and the next day. My Comforter knows there are times when we are all weak. Forty years after a scared young lad cried out to an unknown god for a crutch, I cry out to known God for a crutch. And there is peace. He is still going to die, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and that is OK. God could step in, but He is not going to, at least not in the way we might desire. Forty years however has brought more than just a change in age. Now I know my Father hears my prayer for my father, and that brings me comfort in my weakness.

I’m OK with needing a crutch right now.


Postscript: Dad died at 23:30 Thursday 21st July 2016.
I was privileged to hold his hand and say prayers as he went to meet his Father God.

Photo Credit: Rock Rose Photography
Photo Credit: Rock Rose Photography