Barlows In Birmingham

c4c34bcc0fecb713b2f687fa7b4bb5c1The Met Office has made it official - the past 4 months (March, April, May and June) are the wettest ever, since records began in 1910. And July shows no signs of slowing down. The subject of weather - which is normally a part of most conversations - has taken the "pole position" in every conversation.

NO ONE that I talk to can remember a worst summer in Birmingham. Of course, part of that might be due to forgetting. We often seem to accentuate the difficulty of our CURRENT circumstances, failing to remember another time that was as difficult when we went through it.

But I think it is fair to say that the weather has been amazingly unpredictable, excessively wet, and has squelched most attempts to have a proper summer here on this island. I, for one, am acutely irritated by it all. I don't normally fuss much about rain or wind, and I don't usually have a problem with working around whatever weather is outside. Yet, these past few weeks I have often been exasperated at downspours, the ten minutes of sun here, and the unseasonably cold temperatures.

Strangely enough, it is testing my trust in God. If I get angry at the weather, ultimately is it not a judgement of what God is allowing to happen in my world and a lack of trust or confidence that whatever the temperature or the climate outdoors, His plan can be accomplished through it. On paper, that sounds easy enough. But each time I look out at the latest downpour or have to turn on an indoor light at 1pm just to see where I'm going, I find a deep inner struggle.

Who would have thought that a prolonged period of rain could cause such inner angst at a faith level. I wondered how Noah must have felt after 40 straight days of rain, or Elijah with 3 and a half years of no rain . . .

Chances to teach have filled the past few months - and this weekend will offer six more opportunities. Much of my focus has been on MEN. And I've realised something deep: they learn differently than women.

While that conclusion will surprise no one reading this brief diatribe, it remains a mystery to me why those who lead churches do not invest more in understanding what the differences are and how that should shape all teaching / learning. And perhaps beyond that to all the activities of any church.

What I've gleaned so far is that men like to use their hands, they like to do things together, they like to compete, they struggle to share their inmost feelings, they usually talk with something in their hands, and they discuss side-by-side rather than face-to-face. This is mostly from observation and some of what I've been reading. It is NOT scientific. But even if half of it is off-target, the other half is so different from what normally happens on a Sunday morning . . .

So, I am reflecting on how church would look different if we re-created it with only MEN in mind. Hmmm. Fairly radical.

But if nothing else, it will shape the way I teach if men are present. And this weekend, it will be ALL men on Saturday when we dig into four BIG theological topics. Should be fun! 

I am continuing my studies for my degree program with an Applied Cultural Anthropology course. The reading including works by Paul Hiebert, Sherwood Lingenfelter, and others who are helping the Christian world be better at crossing cultures to share the news of Jesus.

From an outside perspective, all of that probably sounds quite dry and boring. From my perspective, it has been extremely helpful to apply what I learned in books and lectures to our work here in Birmingham. As part of the Final Project, I asked the two leadership teams - from Shirley and Frankley Grace Churches - to fill out two Values Inventories. From that, I was able to compare and contrast what Americans and Brits value most or least from a list of twenty Terminal values and twenty Instrumental values.

The sample was small, but I learned quite a lot about the differences between these two cultures which most people would see as very similar. And I discovered more about some of my own cultural "blind spots" - things which I import into my adopted culture which are foreign and unhelpful. This course has helped the learning to contine . . .

CharisEurope logoOver the long Easter weekend (April 5-9) I traveled with Malcolm Stevens from Grace Church Shirley to an encounter of European church leaders, Charis Partners, and Encompass World Partners staff. This was the first time that leaders from all three groups came together to actively seek how to collaborate across Europe.

On one hand, it showed clearly why the European Union struggles to make ANY decisions ;-)  There are so many different perspectives, values, and priorities. In each of our discussions, insights came up that I would NEVER have thought of - from my cultural understanding and worldview. I came away with a new appreciation of differing viewpoints - with all the frustration that might ensue.

On the other hand, that diversity made the intervention of God all the more apparent. It was something of a miracle that we came away with a vastly improved common understanding, a certain level of trust, a verbal commitment to work together, and an obvious use of the pronoun "WE" to describe the Charis Europe Network.

There is still much to do, to make sure all of that becomes reality. But this weekend left me believing that forward progress is, in fact, possible and even desirable. Thanks be to God . . .


Tom's Blog

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