Every picture tells a story

D-day for dissertation – now done and dusted – and looking far better for being wordled. Are they words that ring true? Already I am wishing I told it straighter and more to the point. Or are they generative words?

Monument in honour of Paulo Freire, Esplanada dos Ministérios, Brazil

I came across this monument of Paulo Freire – with the writing on the wall. For Freire words were generative. “To speak a true word is to transform the world”, whereas, if a word is deprived of its dimension of action … the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating ‘blah'”. (Freire, 2000, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.87)

learning organisations

learning organisations are “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together.” (Senge, 1990, p.3). 
Senge, P.M.    1990    The Fifth Discipline     London: Century Business


Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.”
Albert Einstein



Interesting discussion on supervision at yesterday’s training session for those who are going to be “supervising ministers” for newly ordained clergy.

Peter Chantry offered insights from his experience as he looks forward to welcoming a new curate to his Nantwich parish. They safeguard space each week for a supervision session. One hour every Thursday morning. That is impressive. One of the impressive aspects of his presentation – besides his low-tech mind-map handout – was his emphasis on the quality of the relationship and the way that he is obviously facilitating a collaborative/community approach to formation. There is evidently a care-full building of trust for the relationship “centred on loyalty and commitment, characterised by gentleness and honesty, sharing humanity, respecting confidentiality, meeting & praying regularly.” Good stuff.

It begged the question from friend Julian of what supervision is for. Or, what does successful supervision look like?

I wonder. We spend so much time talking about supervision, insisting that it is a good thing – but what is it for? Is it about “seeing things for ourselves”, “seeing through things” (where there were blind spots), and “seeing things through” (sustainability)?

I have been reading John Hull‘s incredibly moving and honest account of the onset of his blindness, Touching the Rock. He refers to the “thousands of tiny accidental happenings” which led him along the path to blindness. According to Hull faith transforms such accidental happenings into the “signs of our destiny”, by “retrovidence” rather than “providence”.

He describes his stumbling on the altar at Iona Abbey during his stay there in 1986, through which he became a WBS a “whole-body-seer”. Here he sees things for himself, sees through his blindness, and discovers how he can see things through. His seeing is full of feeling and emotion as he touches the rock.

Altar at the Iona abbey
Altar at Iona
photo by Calypso Orchid

“After several nights, I discovered the main altar. I had been told about this, and I easily recognised it from the description. It was a single block of marble. Finding one corner, I ran my fingers along the edge, only to find that I could not reach the other. I worked my way along the front and was amazed at its size. The front was carved with hard, cold letters. They stood out baldly, but I could not be bothered reading. The top was as smooth as silk, but how far back did it go? I stretched my arms out over it but could not reach the back. This was incredible. It must have a back somewhere. Pushing myself upon to it, my feet hanging out over the front, I could reach the back. I did this again and again, measuring it with my body, till at last I began to have some idea of its proportions. It was bigger than me and much older. There were several places on the polished surface which were marked with a long, rather irregular indentations, not cracks, but imperfections of some kind. Could it have been dropped? These marks felt like the result of impact. The contrast between the rough depressions and the huge polished areas was extra ordinary. Here was the work of people, grinding this thing, smoothing it to an almost greasy, slightly dusty finish which went slippery when I licked it. Here were these abrasions, something more primitive, the naked heart of the rock.” (P 163).

As a post-script, he writes: “God is many and yet one, and in God there are many worlds yet one. God does not abolish darkness; God is the Lord of both light and darkness. If in God’s light we see light, then in God’s darkness we see darkness. If a journey into light is a journey into God, then a journey into darkness is a journey into God. That is why I go on journeying, not through, but into.” (p165)

PS Simon Marsh has a different slant on this and has an interesting post on teaching the world to listen – with a video of profoundly deaf musician Dame Evelyn Glennie.

Understanding Samaritans

Water of Life
Water of Life by Stephen Broadbent at Chester Cathedral
Photo by James Preston

Gordon McPhate, Dean of Chester Cathedral, preached this morning on the gospel for the day – the Samaritan woman – depicted in this sculpture. (The sermon is here from Curate’s Corner). Gordon described how a social worker won the trust of a difficult London community in a situation where so many before him had failed. He moved into his flat on the estate, but had no tools. He went asking for help – to borrow saw, hammer, ladders, screwdriver etc, etc. And that was it. He presented himself as needing help.

Likewise Jesus presented himself to the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar – asking her for a drink. Jews and Samaritans despised each other – and men looked down on women. So this meeting of Jesus is remarkable. Jesus, a Jew, is asking a woman and Samaritan for a drink. Their relationship is captured perfectly by Stephen Broadbent. The woman is on top of Jesus. Jesus stands under the woman – and understands her to the extent that she is able to tell her friends “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”

Our social worker friend is in similar posture – as the one asking for help – standing under his neighbours whom his predecessors had quite possibly looked down on. Was the under-standing the secret of his success – plus the fact that his neighbours felt under-stood and needed?

Elizabeth Day has written a moving article in today’s Observer highlighting the predicament of those who are gay in Uganda by telling the stories of John Bosco and Florence Kizza. Their treatment has been abominable, not only in Uganda, but also by the immigration authorities in this country. They have been shown such little under-standing. The authorities have been tyrannical and overbearing – postures without understanding. We think we know so much till we stand under other life stories – and allow them to move us and shake us.

The Kingdom

>I have listened to two sermons from +Robert Atwell in two days. Today I get a day off!The first sermon was at the induction of friend Kathy Kirby as Vicar of St Paul’s Macclesfield. Kathy is a special person who is immensely generous in her appreciation of others. She will offer a very special ministry of affirmation and encouragement. The second sermon was to our Committee for Ministry in which he quoted “the Kingdom” by R.S.Thomas:

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems 1945-1990

I am playing round with ideas on supervision at the moment. Where many minds are bent on specifying, my mind is bent on generalising. I am told that if supervision becomes too general it loses its meaning. I counter that if supervision is too specific it doesn’t mean so much. If the kingdom is “mirrors in which the blind look at themselves and love looks at them back” I dare the word to bear such meaning and defy those who say I go too far.

>Supervision and oversight

>It’s hard to believe the stories of people who have been told by their supervisor that they haven’t time for supervision.

Friend John Lees led a training session on supervision and collaborative ministry for clergy who will be moving on to posts of responsibility in the next few months. He invited us to think of the different supervisory roles people may ask us to take on. In our own words these roles included acting as advocate, mediator, valuer, confessor, coach etc etc. This has got me to thinking that supervision actually happens formally and informally. By formal supervision I mean the intentional setting aside of space for supervision (that’s the space that often gets crowded out by business). When we ask for feedback, support, directions are we not also asking for supervision, but without requiring the creation of an intentional space? To my mind we are at that moment asking for someone to watch over us, to look after us and to help us to a superiorvision.

I worry that “supervision” has become a word made precious by those who would like to see themselves as supervisors. I wonder whether supervision thereby becomes something that is exclusive to the few – depending on scarce resources. I wonder whether supervision isn’t something that all of us need – but in very different guises. Vigilance and watching out for one another alerts us to the needs of others – when they need encouragement, assurance and challenge. The requests aren’t always verbalised. Jesus tells the story of the victim of violence lying at the side of the road. He remarks on the neglectful carelessness of those who passed him by. He highlights the response of the Good Samaritan who looked after the wounded victim and watched over his recovery.

Supervision belongs to the whole people of God. It is in fact a gift of God for his people which gives us confidence in prayer. The Lord who watches over us will neither slumber nor sleep (Ps 121). Therefore, we need to avoid the exclusive practice of supervision to make room for both the informal and formal requests that come our way (the way of all humans) – and we all need to have the confidence to ask for the help we need to get a better sight of our lives. We are all vulnerable. I fear that if we don’t make room for both the formal and informal aspects of supervision we will continually overlook the victims of our peripheral vision. I wonder whether the priest and the levite who passed by the wounded victim of Jesus’s story said – “sorry, that was an oversight”. It’s strange that “oversight” has two such opposite meanings.