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Feb 15

Lent Meditations – Film 1


This is the first in a set of six films I was commissioned to make for Scripture Union’s ‘Word Live’ website. The concept and writing for the films was done by Alex Taylor and Becca Dean.

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Jan 24

Silence

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

It’s like this mirror that’s held up to me
And most of the time I don’t like what I see
So I duck and I dive and I run and I flee
Well that’s better than facing my inadequacy.

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

It’s like this light that shines in my dark
Revealing the bitterness and pain in my heart
And all the ways that I miss the mark
And how I constantly need to restart.

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

It’s not just the bad it’s the good stuff too
Everything you are and everything you do
It overwhelms me and if I took it all in
Well I know it’d change everything.

So why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

This world it creates so much noise
With all our technology, gadgets and toys
Staying plugged in is an easier choice
Than to act on the challenge that comes from your voice.

Why do I hide from the silence?
Because in the silence I find you.

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Dec 28

New Year

The-Future-Is-Exciting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always get super excited about New Year. I’m not a huge fan of the overpriced drinks, overcrowded nightclubs and unrealistic resolutions people set for themselves, but there is one reason for my excitement that has been the same now for ten years.

Nine years ago, a brilliant friend and I got together one new years eve, to eat nice dinner and hang out. We started talking about our year, reflecting on the things that had gone badly and the things that had gone well. We started talking about the things we wanted to achieve over the coming year, and we decided we would write ten of those things down on a piece of paper, put them in envelopes and give them to each other to keep safe until the next year, when we would open them and see how many we had managed. We thought it would be cool to include a message to ourselves, something we thought we’d need to tell ourselves a year on, perhaps something we might forget that we’d need to be reminded of. That’s exactly what we did, and we’ve done it every year since.

photoThis year I found all the old envelopes and it was amazing to look back at ten years of me – all my hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Every year it is such a profound and moving experience, and is one that I can’t recommend highly enough. So I thought I’d tell you about it.

One of the most fascinating things has been seeing how the targets I set for myself have changed. The first few years I set myself such stupid, unrealistic goals. My targets were vague, generic, non-specific and I’d need to be a superhero to get close to achieving most of them! As I’ve got a little older I set goals that are more realistic – or to quote to the well-known goal setting acronym ‘SMART’, my goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time sensitive. Sometimes I set goals that I know I will achieve. For example a couple of years ago I set the goal that I would have an MA in Applied Theology. I didn’t plan on failing my MA, but there were no guarantees – I had to work hard to finish it and it was still a massive achievement worth marking and celebrating. Some targets are things I’m pretty sure will happen, others are things I have no clue about, and some are targets I know may be on there for a few years yet.

becomingThere has also been a switch in priority for me. The first few years were all about the outcomes, the numbers, how many goals I could tick off and what number out of ten I had achieved. This year I didn’t even count the ones I had managed to do, but I reflected a lot around the person I had become, how I had grown and changed whilst trying to achieve those things. I don’t measure success now by my achievements, but in whether I am becoming more like the person I believe God wants me to be.

My favourite part is definitely the message I write to myself. It sounds like a slightly weird thing to do, a bit like talking to yourself, but it’s actually a bit clever. If you think about it, apart from God, there isn’t a person in the world who knows you better than yourself. You know what you struggle with, what you can be a bit lazy with, the things you forget and need to be reminded of, and what refocuses your heart and mind. So who better to be challenged and encouraged by, than yourself? It’s often a tool used in therapeutic situations, for example where someone might be encouraged to write a letter as an adult to themselves as children. It helps them reflect on what they might have needed to hear at that point in their lives, who they were and who they are now in comparison. You’ll see athletes psyching themselves up before the big game and even in the psalms we see David telling his soul to wake up! (Psalm 57:8)

It’s also fascinating that despite being adamant at the time that you will remember what you’ve written down, a year later I guarantee you will have forgotten nearly all of it. I can sometimes remember one or two of my targets, or maybe a sentence in my message to myself, but there are always surprises.

Finally the most important thing it does, is to help me remember how faithful God is, and how He has never ever failed me. Last year when I wrote my targets I was in a bit of a weird place, recovering from a painful year and making some big decisions about where I should be and what I should be doing. To open the envelope this week left me stunned, as I could see the place I was at, the things I was thinking when I’d written it all and how God has used every inch of it to bring me to where I am today. I can see His genius plan throughout all ten years of those hopes, dreams and questions, even when it’s been tough or hard to understand. Those pieces of paper are my markers, my evidence of God at work in my life and I will keep and treasure them forever.

So whatever you are doing this new year, I would really encourage you to find someone who knows you really well, and give this a go. Even my hairdresser and her sister are trying it out this year! If you don’t feel comfortable doing it with one other person why not do it with a group of young people you work with, your small group, a team at work or your family? I guarantee it will be a worthy use of your time, and maybe even like me, you will find it quickly becomes your favourite Christmas/New Year tradition.

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Dec 20

I See Miracles

This one’s for all you festival fakers.
You spiritual high chasers and miracle makers.
Now I know you’ll write me off as a liberal,
Say I’m a little over critical even verging on political
But I see miracles.

Now I’m not disputing what you say you’ve seen
Not saying you’re too keen not trying to be mean.
But I’ve sometimes seen that what we think is mystical
This weird metaphysical is nothing but egotistical

I see miracles.

Not in the stadium shows or front church rows,
Or preachers who teach us how prosperity grows.
Or hyped up, psyched up emotional groans,
Or prophets and healers sitting on thrones.

I see miracles.

In the single Mum with three kids to feed,
Failed by a system of unspeakable greed,
Who chooses work instead of weed,
Despite her need she will succeed.
Or the teenage lad without a Dad,
Who sticks at college when it makes him mad.
Or the bomb blast survivor confined to a chair,
Who’s forgiven her attackers, shocked they just stare.

Greater things than this you’ll see
I know who said it but what did he mean?
The promises on God TV?
Or real people, you and me?

So this one’s for all you festival fakers
You spiritual high chasers and miracle makers.
Now I know you’ll write me off as a liberal,
Say I’m a little over critical even verging on political
But I see miracles.
Yes I see miracles.

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Nov 29

Making Mistakes

This article was originally written for and published in the July 2012 edition of Youthwork Magazine.

Ouch.

Whoops. It’s a word I must have used thousands of times in the ten years I have been doing youth work. In the early days I used it probably on a daily basis, with the hope that as I grew in experience and got my youth work degree, I would say whoops, a lot less. Perhaps I make less of the more obvious mistakes now, but I still make mistakes. Whether I like it or not, whoops is still a regular part of my vocabulary.

The mistakes I have made have varied from small organisational errors and badly handled conflict, to deep-seated bad attitudes and reactions to unhealed hurts. Some of these mistakes are funny to look back on and would feature comfortably in an episode of ‘You’ve Been Framed’. Some of them have been painful and costly and are really not very funny at all. But as I look back I realise that whatever those mistakes were, they have shaped me as a youth worker and made me the person that I am. They have helped me to realise not only the importance of making mistakes, but the deeper importance of learning from those mistakes.

Mistakes are always messages. At a youth project I worked in a few years ago, I had faced months of difficult conflict with a group of young people. I had been insulted, threatened, spat on, pushed, had bags of dog excrement thrown at me…for months and as I was the senior worker I always had to deal with any kind of trouble. One night despite every effort on my part to engage these young people and build a positive relationship with them, they went beyond what I was able to cope with, and as my staff and the young people were in danger I was forced to call the police. When they arrived 45 minutes later, one police officer spoke to me very badly, saying I should have dealt with the situation myself and was wasting his time. I lost it. The people that were supposed to be helping and protecting me were now angry with me for asking for their help. The conversation developed into a nasty argument and in full view of young people and staff I lost my temper, shouted and swore at the policeman, who threatened to arrest me. Thankfully a colleague took over and forced me to go back inside. As I sat on the floor in the staff toilet with tears streaming down my face hoping I wouldn’t be spending the night in a police cell, I realised what I had done and I wished I could erase the last ten minutes. But I couldn’t.

Whoops.

Later that week as my amazingly supportive line manager and I sat down to talk about what had happened, we realised some problems that we just hadn’t seen before. I was doing too much, the problems with these young people were not being resolved in any way, I was the worker dealing with it on a weekly basis without any support and I was completely exhausted. I had acted unprofessionally and should not have said what I said, but the mistake told us things, pointed towards areas that needed attention, helped us improve the situation. The mistake had a message and thankfully we heard it.

A simple reflective practice strategy can help us make sense of a mistake. Kolb (1984) developed a cycle that can be useful in helping us reflect and learn from an experience. I include my mistake to show you how it might work;

A mistake nearly always forces you to look at the determining factors that led to the mistake. In my example I acted badly and I needed to be disciplined for that, but there was also some responsibility that needed to be taken by my co-workers for not supporting me, my line manager who hadn’t spotted I was doing too much and of course the policeman who perhaps didn’t handle the situation in the best possible way! When someone makes a mistake it can be because they’re too tired, perhaps they are juggling too many things or don’t have the adequate training to deal with a certain situation. If someone you are managing makes a mistake what can you take responsibility for? What can you improve on and what can be changed to ensure the mistake won’t happen again?

When I was 15 I attended a house group that was always the highlight of my week. It was a safe space for me to ask questions, share difficulties and explore God with other people my age, as well as with incredible youth leaders. One night, one youth leader shocked me to my core as she honestly and humbly told us about a mistake she had made in her teenage years. It was something that had deeply affected her, and her marriage.

Whoops.

I couldn’t believe she had done it! I thought she was perfect, holy, a youth worker…not someone who made a huge mistake like that. I didn’t know what to say and as I walked home I felt disappointed that the youth leader I had looked up to so much, was actually just a normal person like me who made stupid mistakes. What a brilliant lesson for me to learn! As I continued to navigate my way through adolescence, I realized that messing up was normal and that I didn’t have to keep it a secret. I no longer saw my youth leader as some perfect role model who I could never be like, but someone just like me, who messed up and needed God. Tell your young people about the mistakes you’ve made, and the mistakes you still make. Obviously respect boundaries, be appropriate and don’t glamorize or belittle sin, but don’t let them think you are something you are not. Young people need to know that people screw up and make it, young people need to know that they are not expected to be perfect and that leaders are not to be put on pedestals, because they have a habit of falling off quite spectacularly. It’s not just young people that need to know this – it’s people in your church, your best friends, your staff and your volunteers. Sharing your mistakes stops people from thinking you are something you are not, relieves you of impossible pressure or expectations and may even prevent someone else from making the very same mistake you did!

It is a myth that Christians never make mistakes. The bible is full of not good enough people who screwed up all the time, that God used and empowered. Peter is often famous for his mistakes – losing faith whilst walking on water, cutting off a soldier’s ear, that whole denying Jesus three times thing.

Whoops.

But after all that, who did Jesus use to build his church? Was it the disciples who got it all right, the ones who gave all the right answers, didn’t ask as many questions and kept their sword in it’s sheath? No, it was Peter he chose. Peter the mistake maker. Peter might have made mistakes but at least he tried. He tried to defend Jesus, he was actually present at the crucifixion, he got out of the boat! He did things, he acted, his beliefs led to him doing. I would rather be someone who makes hundreds of mistakes trying to do something than someone who makes no mistakes doing nothing.

Pioneer ministry is a fairly new term within youth ministry but it’s important to mention it here because mistakes are inevitable in pioneering. Pioneer youth ministry is doing stuff that hasn’t been done before, carving out a new path that has never been walked. There is something essentially pioneering about all youth work, because every relationship you form is a new path, every individual you meet and work with will have totally different needs and responses compared to another. You are constantly pioneering, constantly guessing what will work and not work, what to say and not say, how this person will react to that. There are no maps, no senior workers to advise you or tell you about their mistakes so you don’t make the same ones. If it’s truly pioneering then trying it with a bit of guess work is the only way. Mistakes will be made, because they are the only way you can be lead to something that works, a path that’s walkable that others can follow. In his development of the lightbulb, Thomas Edison famously said, ‘If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward’. It is the destiny of a pioneer to find thousands of ways that don’t work, all so that they can be lead to the one way that will work. Your mistakes will always be the paving slabs the path leading to your successes is made from.

Sometimes it’s hard trying to imitate a sinless savior who in just thirty three years changed the course of human history and enabled a way for broken people to restore their relationship with God. I often feel like I’ll never get it, I’ll never be good enough, and how can Jesus ever understand that? He was perfect, he doesn’t know what it’s like to make mistakes. Or does he?

In Luke 2 we read an interesting story about Jesus as a young person, temporarily separated from his parents only to be found in the temple, listening to the scriptures, asking questions and amazing people with his knowledge. In verse 52 we’re told that ‘Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men’.

Really? Jesus grew in wisdom? Jesus could grow in something? Jesus wasn’t born with total and complete wisdom?

Then there is Hebrews 5: 8 – 9; ‘Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect…’ Jesus learned things, Jesus was ‘made perfect’. So he wasn’t before?

I’m not trying to argue that Jesus wasn’t perfect or sinless, I believe he was both. But perhaps this is sometimes the problem in our thinking when we see making a mistake as a sin, rather than just a mistake, inevitable in the process as we learn and grow into the person God is shaping us to be. Making mistakes isn’t failing, it isn’t sinning, it can’t be if Jesus did it.

Jesus was fully human. He wasn’t born potty trained. He had to learn how to walk, to talk, to feed himself, to read, to write. He was a carpenter (or general handyman for the theologians amongst us). I have never trained to be a carpenter, but I did do GCSE Resistant Materials, which is almost the same thing and I was awful at it. It took me months to learn how to saw properly, make joints and hammer nails in the right places. Jesus would have been the same. He probably made some really dodgy tables, the ones where you need a couple of napkins under a leg to stop your dinner from flying off the table with every movement of your leg.

Whoops.

Although perhaps not entirely theologically accurate, I love the scene in ‘The Passion’, where a flashback shows Jesus inventing a high table, different to the others around at the time. It shows the side of Jesus we never see, the one who played and learned and grew, the Jesus who made mistakes and who therefore gives us permission to do the same.

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Nov 12

Autumn Girl

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Oct 18

The Journey Begins

A film I made to kick off the launch night of Bath and Avon Vineyard.

The Journey Begins from Bath and Avon Vineyard on Vimeo.

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Sep 19

Nottingham YFC Promotional Film

Nottingham YFC Promotional Film from Jo Dolby on Vimeo.

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Sep 14

I Am Not Finished

This week I’ve been on a Bristol Centre for Youth Ministry Community Week, where students across all three years retreat to Wales to spend time with God and each other, as well as learning from some essential lectures! It’s been a great week as I’ve got to know the students a lot better, and something one of them said in a piece of liturgy they were reading out during a worship service has really stuck with me.

“God who created you, is still creating you”

The first thing God did was to create, the ultimate aspect of his character is a creative; an artist, painting and sculpting and shaping. As we are made in his image we are created to create.

Thanks to my lovely art teacher friend Anna for this photo of her beautiful classroom

The description of God as a creative being or artist is one that has resonated with me better than any other, particularly as over the last few years I have begun to explore more of my own creativity. I remember hearing Rich Mullins talk about how God is a wild man, not the cultured, civilized God we think. It’s this side of God that I am deeply drawn to, this creative, mysterious, wild, unpredictable, unexplainable force that knows me and loves me. Despite my quest for answers I have found God to be more present in the questions, in the mystery, in the unknown. This is where art belongs. It is always mysterious, sometimes slightly confusing or frustrating and yet it reveals so much of who we are, and who God is.

One of my favourite ever movies is a slightly odd film directed by Richard Linklater called ‘Waking Life’, where a teenager walks around having conversations with people trying to figure out whether life is real or whether it is a dream. The conversations he has are deep, mindblowing and challenging, ranging from theology to philosophy and everything in between. Each scene is a little movie in itself! One scene is two friends talking in a coffee shop;

“When I was younger, there was a desperation, a desire for certainty, like there was an end to the path, and I had to get there.”

“I know what you mean because I can remember thinking, ‘Oh, someday, like in my mid-thirties maybe, everything’s going to just somehow gel and settle, just end.’ It was like there was this plateau, and it was waiting for me, and I was climbing up it, and when I got to the top, all growth and change would stop.”

I remember watching that at the time feeling that I was in that younger stage, of chasing and striving to become what I would be, and that one day I would reach this point where I had ‘made it’ and I would be able to relax and just live my life as this finished person.

Due to lots of learning and change over the last couple of years, I do feel there has been a ‘settling’ of sorts. A kind of letting go, or at least an acceptance that this is who I am, this is my life now and who I am now is pretty much who I will be forever. Although this has been freeing in some ways, it is also disappointing. Despite the circumstances in my life being great at the moment this thought has bothered me continuously over the past few weeks.

It’s disappointing because there are so many things about myself I hoped would have changed by now; deep wounds, character flaws, unhelpful patterns of thinking and low self-confidence. Who I am is not who I hoped I would become, despite my best efforts. I thought by now I would be…better. The chase is over and I am not the person I dreamed I could be.

I’ve forgotten God isn’t done creating. I am not finished.

What a comforting thought, that who I am right now is not the end of my story. That God is still painting and sculpting and shaping and drawing and editing me…and that in his mind he sees his finished creation, a masterpiece he has crafted from dust. As if this wasn’t enough, even when I smear the painting or chip the sculpture, God just carves or paints it into something else. He endlessly recreates what others and I destroy.

It’s that ‘now and not yet’ metaphor. There are glimpses of God’s work in me, moments of genius and beauty, a deposit of what is to come, a sign of the future. But there are glimpses of corruption and pollution, devastation and evil, a reminder of the darkness that exists in the world, the war that I am a part of, raging within me. The now and not yet fight, as one kingdom tries to invade the other, and I am a mesh of both, a slimy caterpillar hiding in the cocoon of my partly finished physical form until I can burst out and fly away as the being I was born to become. Everything we see on this earth is only a partial glimpse and we will never be fully made, completed, until the end of this age.

This reassures me! I am not who I want to be, but I’m not who I was or who I will be. There is so much more God will do. Outwardly I am wasting away but inwardly I am being renewed day by day! (2 Corinthians 4:16)

God had an idea to create a masterpiece. God created me, and he is still creating me. He is editing and carving and painting and sculpting and molding and making and shaping and one day, I will be finished.

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Aug 30

The Lift Dance


In the first couple of weeks at my new job, I’ve had several moments of complete and total joy at what I’m actually getting paid to do. This has lead to what I will call – the lift dance. It goes a bit like this;

1) I find out something cool I get to do as part of my job
2) I feel full of joy and excitement but recognize that I may lose my job or traumatize my new colleagues if I fully express this joy and excitement
3) I have to go in the lift at some point during the day to go somewhere awesome like the library (there is a basement library with a vault that has some super old books in that smell amazing)
4) I remember that no one can see me in the lift (the rumours of CCTV are false)
5) I do a silly dance and fully express my joy and excitement at everything God is doing and the life I get to live

When I sit and really let myself think about everything God has done for me, the way he’s turned everything around…it’s overwhelming. It’s from this place that I try to start every day. Even when I’m grumpy, even when it’s early, even when there seems to be too much stuff to do, even when the sadness of the people I’ve lost in the last couple of years still stabs at me, I remember.

I remember what God has done for me. And when I remember it, there is always a reason to do the lift dance.

Sometimes as Christians I wonder whether we are too keen to forget, to press forward, to move on. We are so focused on the future that we forget to reflect on the past and let it revolutionize the present. The journey we’ve been on, the road God has weaved for us and walked with us.

It’s too easy to forget.

The Israelites were good at forgetting. It wasn’t long after they had been delivered from Egypt that they forgot just what they had been saved from – a life of pain and slavery. They even wanted to go back! (Numbers 14:3). Even when they reached the Promised Land they forgot and started doing evil stuff (Judges 3).

Forgetting what God has done never seems to end well.

In the Old Testament, one method of remembering was to build a pillar or altar of stones (1 Samuel 7:12, Joshua 4:1-9). When God helps Joshua cross the Jordan river with the ark of the covenant, Joshua does just that, and tells the Israelites that in generations to come when their children ask what the stones mean, they can tell them the story of what God has done. I love imagining a little kid, hundreds of years later, being sat down and told the amazing story of God doing a total miracle.

Remembering is good for us, but it’s good for others too.

One of the last things Jesus did was teach his disciples something to help them remember. During the last supper Jesus broke bread and drank wine with them, telling them to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). All across the world, 2000 years later, we celebrate communion together as followers of Jesus. We stop and remember what Jesus has done for us on the cross. It’s always a powerful symbol, where perspective returns and gratitude ignites.

We need to keep building pillars of stones! For real, maybe. Symbolically, definitely. Some creative ways of doing this:

• Buy or find a cool glass jar, and put it somewhere in your house. Every time something awesome happens to you or someone in your house write it down on a bit of paper and put it in the jar. When the jar is full empty it out, get your friends and family round and read out everything in the jar over a bottle of wine.
• Keep a journal, or prayer diary. Split the pages in half and on one side write down what you’re praying about. When you feel like God has resolved it or answered your prayer, write down what happened next to it on the other half of the page.
• Write down your testimony on a bit of paper, photocopy it ten times, and see how creative you can get leaving it in random places. Doctor’s waiting rooms, train seat tray tables, underneath the windscreen wiper of a random car…you can have lots of fun with this!
• Tell your stories! Tell them to your friends, family, house group, church. Stories are so powerful, moving and untouchable. They’re useless if they remain inside of us. We must tell them.
• Do more lift dances. But check for CCTV first.

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