Friday, February 20, 2015

A poem borrowed for Lent

I'm marking Lent in two ways. Firstly, traditionally, I'm parting company with a less-than-healthy habit or two. Secondly, I'm reading a poem, slowly, every day, and pondering it. It's part of an effort to live more deliberately; to inhabit the present.

Which is, in fact, precisely the theme of yesterday's poem. This beauty by RS Thomas (one of my fave ever poets) is a meditation on how the easily missed present is in reality our only connection with eternity.


The Bright Field by RS Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Teacher feature

"So, what made you want to go back to teaching after nine years out?"

It's a question I've been asked quite a few times since I made the decision to leave my employment by a charity connected to the Jesus Fellowship and return to the chalk face (or whatever we call it now it's all white boards, and interactive ones, no less).

When I made the decision, those years ago, to leave teaching it was absolutely not because I didn't like teaching. I loved it; I flowed in it; it was "me". I walked out of Blue Coat School that day with my tears blowing on the wind. But there was a need for my skills in the church's charity, and I sensed a call to do that. I loved teaching, but the church of Jesus was - and still is - my first love. I don't regret that decision, and I can reflect with some satisfaction on what I and my team have achieved in those years, in areas as diverse as media communications, through biblical theology, to safeguarding and policy.

But I never stopped dreaming of teaching. Literally. Dreaming. At night. I'd wake up and feel gutted as the dream faded. Because I wasn't really in the classroom; I was heading for the office.

"In the night my heart instructs me," wrote the psalmist. There was a teacher inside me, in my heart. If that sounds a bit over-precious, a touch pretentious, all I can say is that it didn't stop - all those years.

I kept going at the charity job out of, among other factors, loyalty to its leaders - and the leaders of the Jesus Fellowship are, quite simply, some of the finest, purest, noblest human beings you could ever meet - and because I still had plenty to offer. But I was starting to dry up. And now there's a time of considerable change coming for the charitable side of what we do - some of it driven by the straitened financial climate - and after careful, prayerful consideration, I decided it was time for me to move on.

I pushed gently at the door of the school at which I used to teach - basically just asking for a reference - only to find that door fly open and propel me into a job. I'm already back in the classroom. As it says in the same psalm quoted above, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places". I'm grateful to the Blue Coat leadership for giving me that chance - and I'm grateful to God.

And just to make this clear - because some people have taken away the wrong impression - I'm as committed to my beautiful church, the Jesus Fellowship, the heroic, brave, colourful, outrageous, exciting Jesus Army, as I ever have been. Indeed, one of the other factors in my recent decision was to enable me be more available to the local, Coventry arm of that church than I was when I had a central role.

So it's back to the classroom for me. Back to analysing WWI poetry, back to Leo Dicaprio's Romeo, back to Animal Farm, back to assemblies and marker pens, and reports (shudder), and parents evenings. And I'm running hard to get up to speed on Quality First Teaching, and SEND reforms, and cross-curricular literacy, and Controlled Assessments, and, and, and...

But I'm flowing. And God is in it.

An ex-student piped up on Facebook the other day with these remarkable and encouraging words (all the more remarkable when I consider how hard it was to get written work out of him back in the day!) With them, I'll sign off:
"If you can make a meaningful difference in the lives of reprobates like myself, you can make a difference in anyone's life. Blue Coat just got back one of their greatest ever assets of all time. I'm certain that there are some stressed out, depressed young people already there now that will look back and thank God for the day that they were taught by Mr Stacey."

Friday, November 21, 2014

By the rivers of Babylon...

Picture from
My fellow-leader, friend, who is also my brother-in-law, who is also my brother-in-grace, who is also a very fine chap indeed, read out a psalm in a leaders meeting the other night. It’s that one made famous by Boney M – ‘By the rivers of Babylon…’

It struck a chord as he read it out. It starts with these moving words:
By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord's song
    in a foreign land?

Then moves to a prayer of devotion to the psalmist’s homeland:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!

It ends with some of that psalmy violence that tend to smash and jar on modern ears:
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
    blessed shall he be who repays you
    with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
    and dashes them against the rock!

We have been through a tough time over the past couple of years. Now, to put this in perspective, we haven't faced anything like the terrors and trials of, say, our persecuted brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq. But we have seen the closure of dreams, the departure of friends, the collapse of some ideals.

At times it has felt, as we arrive at yet another guitar-and-tambourine worship session (you may have to be a charismatic Christian to get what I mean here) – at times it has felt like, ‘How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?’ In this place of desolation, where broken hopes stare at us and mock us? Zion – the ideal, the dream, the heady days of youth and optimism – seem a memory more than a reality.

Yet love has held us. The love of very faithful, very generous, very kind people. And behind that the love of a very faithful, very generous, very kind God. And now the waters are rising. Gently, new hope is coming. And I find myself ready to pray, ‘Don’t let me forget. I really do love the church of Jesus. At her best, at her most loving and given and generous, this Jerusalem of Jesus really is above my highest joy.’

But what about that last stage of the psalm? Am I ready to take the ‘little ones’, the attractive, alluring, cute things of the world – entertainments, distractions, diversions, pollutions – and ‘dash them against the rocks’? To use Jesus’ words, ‘to enter violently’?

Almost. The tide is rising. I want to live for God. I want to live for Love.