Living Lent generously – 10 days to go

Red-on-WhiteSo, we’ve just passed the 30-day mark in the 40 acts challenge – we’re three-quarters of the way there now!  Here’s a quick summary of the great challenges from this last quarter.

Day 21: DO be silly – This one landed in British inboxes on Red Nose Day – a big televised fundraising day with celebrities and others urging people to give to the Comic Relief fund for a huge range of charity projects both at home and abroad.  So the simple idea was to crack a joke or two, or buy and wear a red nose for the day – and thereby look completely ridiculous.  Or going all out to organise a big fundraising event.

Day 22: Give it time – a call to give your time and talents to someone or a bigger cause.  That could be something as small as five extra minutes in prayer or spent with a friend or family member.  Or the time could be used to catch up with any acts missed from the challenge so far. The toughest challenge idea was to set aside one whole day of annual leave and spend it helping others in some way.

Day 23: Share, pray, like – Scroll through your social media and pray about the items you see there.  Or journal some prayer points and make extra time to pray through the list.  And if you have the time to take it further – write letters of support or make donations to charity, or answer any cries for help you hear about.

imageDay 24: Chocs away – buy and give away some chocolate – whether a little or a lot. Perhaps buy a bar for one or two friends or leave some anonymously in public places – or go the whole hog and hand it to everyone in the train carriage on your commute.

Day 25: Serve the server – make an extra effort with those who serve us regularly – shop assistants, waiters, maintenance staff and so on.  At the very least – treat them with dignity and courtesy, or strike up a conversation with them and say why you appreciate them.  Or go big and write to their head office and sing their praises or treat them in some other extravagant way as a thank you for the many ways in which they serve you.

Day 26: Bearhug – Hug someone – could be a virtual hug, but a real one is better – and the more the merrier! How about making and wearing a ‘Free Hugs’ sign for the day?

Day 27: Widen your circle – go beyond your usual crowd today and broaden your circle of friends.  At least say hi/hello or invite someone new to join you for a film, a meal or whatever.  And if you really want a challenge, head for those people who really annoy or bore you for some reason, and bring them into your circle today.

Day 28: Roll your sleeves up – a day for practical generosity – just simple physical acts of kindness, like helping someone across the street or helping them with a heavy item.  Or help out with a job a neighbour needs doing or get a bigger group of people together to tackle a bigger issue in the community together.

Day 29: Bless the boss – send an appreciative word to the boss today – an email or a letter – or find some way to ease their burden by running an errand or doing something else to help them out. Aim to do this more over the longer term too – recognising that leadership can be hard-going and short on blessing.

Day 30: Be first – be the first with your hand up to volunteer for something today.  Offer to pray for someone or wash up for them – or help out at a local charity – find out what’s needed and then volunteer to fill the gap.  Do a quick review of the volunteering you’ve done in the past.  Can you see a pattern to it? What are your particular passions? What would you do to make the world better if you knew you couldn’t fail.  Pray about it and then get that plan into action.

This quarter of Lent has had a really varied range of generosity challenges.  As ever, some were completely up my street (chocolate Tuesday) and some most definitely weren’t (hugging day)!

I loved wrapping up some bars of a chocolate with a little 40acts label on them and then leaving them out and about in the l local area for people to find.  It was actually quite hard in our busy little community trying to find places and opportunities to put the chocolatey gifts.  But the most fun was the next morning when my Twitterfeed had a photo of one of my chocolates and a thank you from someone who had found one of them when out for a walk in the spring sunshine – the feedback made me smile all day.  Being generous gives back so much when you really step out and go for it (and this was really quite a simple thing to do!).

But I’m not a hugger – not a touchy feely person at all – and I’m the world’s worst at telling jokes or trying to be silly, so those two days were much more of a challenge for me!

Being a vicar often means giving my time for other people so that challenge is pretty much in the run of a normal day, but it’s still good to stop and think about it and be much more intentional – even (perhaps especially so) when you’re doing it for a living.  And, though I thought I shouldn’t have been, I was genuinely surprised at the impact of praying through my social media newsfeed – something I need to start doing as a regular thing.

On serve the server day, I tried to really show appreciation of the bus driver and barista who served me, but I didn’t attempt the bigger challenge for the day.

I’ve still got a couple of challenges to complete from this set, but I have some plans – and, as Lent continues, there are still some more challenges to come.

A Perfect Book

imageThe perfect book review of this Perfect book by Rachel Joyce needs to say little more than: Read it now!

It’s been such an enjoyable read. At first sight, it seems a simple and straightforward story that weaves together past and present in the lives of two boys during one particularly eventful summer and its repercussions for their later lives.  But the book has a very skilfully woven plot and I wouldn’t dream of saying too much here so as not to spoil it for anyone who might come across this post before reading the book.

It’s funny, but I only bought the book because I needed to return a duplicate Christmas present and there were complications with the three-for-two offers.  I rather grudgingly agreed to have less money back and get another book from the deal.  And I grabbed Perfect because I had just recently finished reading and had really enjoyed the two Harold Fry stories by the same author.

Perfect works for me because the boys are about the same age as me. This means I identify with a lot of the detail setting the scene for their 1972 lives – it’s very realistic for this kind of English childhood in that era.  The characters are developed well, eminently believable, and quickly became people I cared about. I had to keep reading to discover what would happen to them next or to understand what had gone before.

Perfect is not an edge-of-the-seat gripping thriller of a book, but it’s definitely a real page turner as the author skilfully draws the reader into the story to keep on finding out what happens next. It’s generally a quiet book with a gentle pace, but don’t let that put you off, because this is a story with some big surprises too.  And I really can’t say any more than that right now, or you’ll be missing out on the Perfect reading experience.

40 acts – half a season of generosity

Logo-2-white-on-redThis post is running a bit late as we hit the halfway mark on the 40 acts challenge back on Thursday, but here’s a quick round up of the last quarter.  Some great challenges here, lots to think and pray about and even more to do!

Day 11: Post-it Postman – a whole bunch of ways to use simple little post-it notes to cheer others up or make them feel appreciated. It could just be a single note to someone special, or a trail for them to follow and be encouraged by.  Or perhaps post-its could be left in more public places (inside a library book, on a locker at the gym) for complete strangers to be blessed by.

Day 12: Kick the bottle – a call to reduce, reuse or recycle some of the vast quantity of plastic we get through each and every day.  Tracking plastic usage is a simple but effective way to get started – it soon mounts up.  Or getting a reusable water bottle or coffee cup.  And there were links to some amazing ideas for creative uses for old plastic bottles.

Day 13: Listen to your generous gut – respond to your gut instinct and do something generous for someone as soon as you feel prompted to do so.  Or go and put yourself in a busy place and pray for some opportunities you can respond to there and then.

Day 14: Mind the gap – get in touch with someone from a different generation today – phone an older person, talk to a youngster, spend some time with someone new. Or how about becoming a mentor to a young person or committing to regular visiting to a care home or similar.

Day 15: Insert verse here – share a favourite Bible verse to encourage someone else.  This could be face to face or via phone or text or or social media, or perhaps write to someone.  Over the longer term, is there anyone you could read the Bible with regularly?

Day 16: Off the hook – disconnect from technology for a day (or at least a few hours) and spend the time reconnecting in real life. Consider reducing the amount of time you spend on your devices on a regular basis.

Day 17: BOGOF – do as it says on the tin and give the extra one away – or share something you have more than one of.  Even better – pay it forward in a coffee shop or similar.

Day 18: Apologise – needs no explanation, just needs to be done.  Think about the best way to do it and the best timing and recognise that the person may not be ready to forgive you just yet.  But it’s still so important to make that first move.

Day 19: In touch – a challenging challenge to connect (write a card or letter) to either a prisoner or a victim of domestic violence – two groups often forgotten in society today.

Day 20: Stranger things could happen – try speaking to a new person today, a complete stranger, or else work at building more of a relationship with someone you see now and again but don’t really know – like a shop assistant or postman etc.

Just as I described in my first quarter summary, I really loved some of these challenges and felt they were just me, while others really were a big challenge.  Talking to strangers is so much a part of my job as a vicar that it seemed quite funny that I didn’t have any opportunities for that on the day of the challenge itself!  And I still haven’t done the post-its (mainly because I did some for my family last year and didn’t want to repeat myself) or the BOGOF challenge.  I really should’ve done the BOGOF challenge first thing that morning though, because I was in a coffee shop and could so easily have bought a coffee for the man standing behind me in a very long queue, but I bottled it and didn’t do so. I just don’t like drawing attention to myself and it was so busy in there that morning.  Now pondering doing it next time I’m in a coffee shop or perhaps buying some of the three-for-two Easter egg deals and giving them away instead.  And perhaps I might put a few anonymous post-its in some public places.

I’ve made a real effort to remember bags for food shopping and I’ve taken my portable coffee cup out with me to cut down on disposable waste.  I loved responding to my gut instinct as it gave me a fantastic opportunity to bless someone and they had no idea why. I shared a Bible verse that seemed to be much appreciated and I apologised after saying something I shouldn’t have done.

I couldn’t switch off my technology the day of the challenge as it was a working day and I had documents to prepare etc.  But I did fast from checking my Facebook and Twitter updates during the day and found I read a bit more of a fascinating book instead.  I’ve since tried to stick to only checking early and late in the day.

The write to a prisoner challenge really got me thinking.  I felt that was something that probably needed to be longer term rather than just a single letter.  But this last week or two, there has been so much media coverage of the detention of asylum seekers in the UK – held in near prisoner conditions with awful stories of abuse and bad treatment.  This is something that I really struggle with – I can’t bear the injustice of it and am longing to be part of helping to bring down this vile system. So I spent some useful time finding out about how to become a visitor to one of these detention centres (I don’t think letters would work, sometimes because of the language barrier, and also the detainees fear factor in making their situation worse), so I hope that will be a longer term outcome to this particular challenge.

So, we’re just over halfway through Lent – I’m still writing my daily thank you notes and this week has been full of really touching thank yous back from some of those who received them.  It’s been such a blessing, I’m so glad I took up that particular challenge.  It will be a good thing to keep doing long after the month of March is over.

Hope Lent is going well for you – it’s still not too late to join us at 40 acts as there are still plenty of generous acts to be done as we keep on living Lent generously.