Helping People to be The Best

Oct 20

We live in a world that is constantly looking at productivity.  How can we as a society extract more productivity out of our employees?  How can we micromanage people so that they are good little units of production?  Our education system is gear up towards it.  Our government is reducing the creativity and increasing the productivity.  It’s not all work, work, work.

This is Paul Reed Smith.  He is the founder of PRS Guitars.  They are possibly the most desirable guitars on the planet.  Possibly because everyone has personal preferences.  The whole clip is about how to create something wonderful.  But from 8mins 50seconds (where it should have started when you clicked it) he outlines his company’s ethics.  He outlines how to get the best out of people working there – Collaboration, value and investing in people. 

In most of our workplaces we have lost sight of the value that is placed in the people who form the company.  Everything can be boiled down to a simple equation with profit as the key value.  Ultimately, productivity is not optimised through coercion and the threat of punitive measures.  As Mr Smith says, “I don’t want to restrict what they need to do as artists otherwise really gifted people won’t stay?”.

So how can we think about this as a wider issue, and how can we think about it as a Church (TM)?

Being the Person You Want Around You

Oct 9

Today, I’m in the middle of leading group sessions as part of the Year 7 retreat programme in a large Church of England secondary school. The children and youth department from WYAD hand me the activity and then it evolves as the day proceeds.

With groups of ten pupils we started exploring the changes in the friends we now that we have moved to a much larger secondary school. How do we make new friends in a bigger context?  With a flip chart on the table we “brainstormed” (he’s said it now!) what qualities we look for in a friend, a best friend, a bestie, a bezel.


Using balsa wood people from Baker Ross we then went from the archetype (yes we learned a key word) to our own individual desires by writing the qualities we are looking.

For a plenary (see, I was a teacher don’t you know) we looked at our person and assessed the qualities we were looking for.  Then I asked the pupils if they were able to step up to the challenge and be those people they wanted to have as friends.  “Can we be those people for others”?  Can we be the “honest, caring, kind, funny… ” people we are looking for in the world.

The whole theme of the retreat was “The Light of the World” and this was one of many activities during the day.  Later, when we returned together as the larger group we prayed together.  I invited the pupils to pull out the wooden dudes they had decorated and think about what they had written.  We prayed together that we may become those people who are a light in the world.  We prayed that we would develop those good qualities we were looking for in others.  We prayed that we would go and be the light of the world.

And then I blessed them.

The children and youth department at WYAD are great with resourcing parishes.  They could do with an online presence where you can download resources they make available.

New Song – In the Beginning

Oct 6

Those of you who have had to listen to me pontificate about church music for any length of time will have heard me lament, quality or music, quality of lyrics, lack of scriptures and theological statements in modern music.  You will have no doubt also heard me groan at the mention of most Christmas music for counterproductive and often contradictory to the the faith.

When an email arrived this morning from Resound Worship promising Christmas music, I admit I was skeptical.  I was delighted to find this wonderful song resetting John Chapter 1 as congregational worship.  It comes complete with everything you need as musicians to make it your own.


Changing Worship is One Egg Heavier

Oct 2

Holy Nativity is in the middle of running a mindfulness course.  Two clinical psychologists are offering their time and expertise as part of their faith giving.  I am doing the course for my own wellbeing.  Some of you at this point will have no idea what I’m going on about.

Mindfulness means: “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.”

(Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Part of mindfulness is to regularly pay intense attention to what you are doing.  This could be anything but I have found eating something to be something I find beneficial.  Every morning I eat eggs from the churchwarden’s chickens.  And each morning I cook them in a rush, and wolf them down as I am half way out of the door.  Sometimes, my eating is so bad that I forget to chew something and have to drink something to stop myself from choking.  I rush.  I rush everywhere and rush everything I don’t think is important (like eating breakfast) so that I can live 1.643 lives simultaneously.  “How do you manage to do so many things Robb?”  Well if I’m honest, it is by missing out a lot of other things.  Like chewing.

So I am an egg heavier.  I selected my small pan and put it on the heat.  I selected an egg.  I chose a large brown one with several pieces of straw still stuck to it.  I cracked it on the side of the pan and watched as it slide into a slight dip in the metal base.  I watched as it slowly changed from clear to white.  I opened the packed, avoided the crust and selected two sliced of bread.  Then I decided which sauce to use (Bourbon BBQ for breakfast because I’m that edgy).  As I sat down and looked at my breakfast I smelled fried egg for the first time in years.  Considering I eat this same breakfast most days, that is a revelation.  How have I not noticed what fried egg smells like for so long?  I savoured every bite.  Then the inevitable happened, it dribbled down my chin.  And I realise as I held the small side plate that I leave a lot more mess with a fried egg butty than I do at communion.  And then I realised I was praying.  And had been praying for the last ten minutes.  I had been praying about something as mundane as an egg.  I wasn’t relating to myself so much as relating to the divine, the other, that which is not part of me, the holy:  God.

And I kept on praying.  About family, friends, the community I’m part of at Holy Nativity and the hundreds of concerns I have for people.

An egg led me to prayer because I paid attention to it.

Yes, that sounds weird to me as well.

So what keeps me from paying attention to what I’m eating?  What gets in the way of praying?  The times my mind wandered off of the mindfulness exercise, I was thinking about one thing and one thing only:  Facebook.  “I’ll have to change my status to “Robb is one egg heavier, chuckle”.  How has Social Media become such an important part of our lives that it can stop us from living them?

I am an early adopter.  I love Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and even Myspace (Currently residing in our where are they now files).  Social media is a great thing.  Social media keeps us connected with each other in ways that we could only dream of ten years ago.  It connect us with friends and family who are far off.  We must be careful not to allow it to stop us from connecting with those who are near.  We must be careful not to allow it to stop us connecting with the divine.

Robb is one egg heavier.

Richard Dawkins Part 1: The Worth of a Human Life

Aug 22

It is nearly 48 hours since the latest furore surrounding Richard Dawkins. There are two things I have noticed over the last couple of days [I started to write this as one posts but it’s got a bit long, I’ll do a second post*]:

The world has divided into three camps:
1) Those who are ardently opposed to Richard Dawkins
and looking for any excuse to blindly oppose him.
2) Those who are ardent supporters of Richard Dawkins and will blindly follow him wherever he goes.
3) Those who were largely ambivalent to Richard Dawkins but find this particular excursion into the philosophy of human morality repugnant.

In the third group there are many who are parents of children with Down’s Syndrome who are keen to stress that their daughter or son’s worth can’t be measured by their contribution to society. There are people with Down’s Syndrome who read his comments and find that they themselves are being viewed as worth-less to society.


We have as a society moved in the name of progress to view people as commodity. A person’s worth is increasingly seen by those who govern as the “contribution that they make to the economy”. By someone such as Professor Dawkins a person’s worth is measured by how much can be contributed to the things he personally values, i.e. Evolutionary Biology. This is why he values those with Aspergers as being worthy of life.

This whole ‘scandal’ has been an opportunity for personal reflection. I come from a family in which Down’s Syndrome and Asperger’s are quite prevalent along with other kinds of “special needs”. I have been looking around my family and imagining this “lens of worth” with which to view the world. Which of my relatives are worthy of life and which ones are not? My uncle recently passed away as a happy and fulfilled pensioner [and the sentence shouldn’t need to continue with the words ‘with Down’s Syndrome.’ That should be enough!] The grief in our family was and is tangible. The life, the shared experiences, the jokes that were shared together in thick Scots accents left a huge impact upon us all.

As a foetus, I was screened. I was weighed and found not wanting. This is actually untrue. My mum says that she went along with the screening because she was told that she had to because of the risk but that there is no way she would have terminated the pregnancy. The decision was already made. My life would have worth whether an academic, a prince or a pauper, whether Asperger’s, Down’s or – whatever it is that I am despite my lack of labels.

[*edit – I started writing about the press and the way they report some individuals as individuals and some as representative of their group but it was too depressing. Not sure I’ll bother with part 2.]

The Invisible People

Aug 12

There is a fashion at the moment for videoing yourself doing unusual things and uploading it to youtube. They are everywhere but Upworthy share these types of video at an almost hourly rate. Often they highlight issues within our society that should cause us great shame like the plight of the poor or homeless.

Here we have a video that I keep seeing again and again appear on Facebook and twitter. A homeless man is begging on the street and some students come and play music with his bucket.

I can’t help feeling uneasy about the whole scenario. This homeless man is someone we never hear from or about in the whole clip. He is still homeless and still has no voice at the end of the video. He becomes part of a freak show that no doubt generates lots of traffic to someone’s YouTube account.  I’m haunted by the bewildered look on his face as they leave arm in arm having changed… their YouTube hit count.

As we wander through life we are increasingly oblivious to “the other”.  We wear our headphones and stare at our smart phones as we hustle and bustle from one place to another.  There are marginalised people who are invisible in our society.  We speak about them but we rarely hear from them.  The homeless woman sitting on a sleeping bag at the corner of the road by the market is someone we either walk past or throw some loose change at.  As a society we are paternalistic in the way we engage with “the other”.  We talk about those “invisible people”, the poor or the homeless and we are in danger of dehumanising people we see as “problems to fix” as we turn people into objects.