Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Week of Weeks

The Prince of Wales talking to me together with the Principal and Bursar
after viewing the plans for new buildings at Ridley Hall

As you can see from the above picture we have had quite a week at Ridley Hall -- probably one of the most momentous and busy in the whole of my forty years of ministry.

The Prince of Wales dropped by for tea on Tuesday, and it fell to me to coordinate and stage manage the event. The Prince seemed to enjoy himself very much and had good conversations with sixteen Ridley students training for ordination in the Church of England or for youth leadership. It was valuable for the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England to meet some of those who will be ecclesiastical leaders when he comes to the throne.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that this is something that happens every day for this was the first royal visit to the college since its doors opened in 1881. It has certainly raised our profile in Cambridge, with Ridley being on the front page of the local paper twice in a couple of weeks. My impression of the Prince having met him briefly is rather different from the image that the media paint of him.

But that wasn't the end for the week, because on Thursday we had a major event at Lambeth Palace hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It kicked off among major donors and potential donors the campaign that we hope will put new academic and residential facilities for students at Ridley Hall -- the first building of its kind since 1914. Again, it was my responsibility to make it happen. It didn't help that there were torrential rains all afternoon and evening despite nothing being forecast. However, it went off well and we seem to have gathered some new friends who we believe are going to help us to make the expansion of Ridley Hall a reality.

But that isn't the end of it all. At this very moment, even as my fingers hit the keys, the Council of the College are working toward the selection of a new Principal and we were all tied up in that yesterday. Meanwhile next week we have a very important Council meeting, an Alumni/ae event with 150-200 participants, and the first lecture in a series of public lectures in memory of Professor Charlie Moule with Bishop Tom Wright as the speaker. We aren't quite sure how many visitors will be coming for that, but we have learned someone has made it the primary reason for coming from the USA.

Someone suggested to me the other day that I might be slowing down now in preparation for retirement. I had to chuckle because I have never being going so hard in my whole life. While I expect retirement will happen one of these fine days, right now it is a dirty word as there is just too much to do for the Kingdom of God!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Challenge of Adjusting

Author Laurie R. King, in whose company I have been spending a lot of time since coming to England

During the last eight months I have been less than assiduous about keeping up my blog, and I apologize to any regular readers for this -- if there are any regular readers left! Some of you probably think that I have more or less dropped off the edge of the world, while others might be relieved they are hearing less from me! I haven't disappeared and am still here on the edge of the English Fens, working as hard as I ever have, and puzzling to adjust to the British way of doing things!

I have to confess that while there are times of great delight and satisfaction, there are also days of utter frustration. The truth is that I was in the USA for so long that I don't think or respond to life and reality as Brits do. Also, my use of North American vocabulary has been the source of entertainment to some of my colleagues at Ridley Hall.

In the midst of all this there are times of a deep and even painful missing of the United States. It is fascinating that I still dream in American, as it were. I do not remember in the nine months that I have been here ever dreaming in an English setting -- they have all been set in Tennessee or some other part of the US (last night, for example, I dreamed I was elected a US Senator for Texas -- glory knows where that one came from!). The other night I woke in the wee small hours and lay there for a full thirty seconds trying to work out precisely where I was and what I was doing here. All this, I have concluded, reflects a massive dislocation and disorientation at a significant depth in my psyche.

One of the side effects of this is the amount of mental and emotional energy I am using up as I adapt to a new life and lifestyle after three decades in the States. A by-product is that my concentration and creativity quotient are both at a very low ebb. I can just about manage to put together an occasional sermon and writing my daily devotions, but apart from what is required for my work I tend to be short of the emotional and spiritual wherewithal to do some creative exploring and branching out mentally and imaginatively.

Making major adjustments upsets the life of different people in different ways. Some may gobble up intellectual stimulation as a result of being tossed around so much, but I am finding the demands made by transitioning to be so enormous that reading serious books that are filled with significant content requires more intellectual energy than I have, and I sometimes fear that I might never get that side of myself back.

Instead of digging into works that are meaty and demanding, I am reading far more fiction than I have for a long time. Having been recently introduced by my elder daughter to the Mary Russell mysteries written by Laurie King, a San Franciscan who has some transatlantic roots in Oxford, I am devouring these with a passion. It is as if my psyche and imagination need taking care of and recharging before I am able to launch back into heavier fare.

It just was as I started writing this that I met a man who had recently gone through a similar episode, and it was a comfort to know I am not alone in attempting to garner the concentration levels and capacity to do things that make a high demand. After a heavy business schedule with much traveling globally for years and years this particular individual began slowing down as he felt the end of his career approaching. He was actually considering how he would redirect his life. This was the point at which his brain seemed to clam up, and coupled with a bout of ill health it had taken eighteen months to get his head back on so that he could read significantly and write again.

It is obviously a human shortcoming to refuse to accept that there are certain life events that leave us hollowed out and in need of recovery time if we are to be generative and creative in the future. I plead guilty to being one who finds it difficult to listen to the inner voice that prompts me to slow down a bit at times. I like to think that this fallow time for me is being a bit like a connoisseur laying down a cellar of fine wine that isn't yet mature, but will be able to be enjoyed later on.

So I have been spending the last months observing and learning again what reality look like from a British point of view so that I can eventually participate in and draw upon the seeds of ideas being stored up. In a way I suspect what I am doing is a little like adjusting to sharing my life with a new spouse, a process that probably requires meeting some of the unknown or overlooked darker and nastier sides of one's partner personality and being -- as well as enjoying the nice, sunny, and enjoyable components of their identity in a more intense and satisfying way.

The underlying truism is that this country has changed enormously since we left and this is what we are trying to come to terms with, discovering things about this land that I didn't really wish to know. Such reality therapy takes a toll. I am developing this impression that while Britain has succeeded in the material world after fighting world wars followed by a long time in the economic wilderness, the price it has paid has been its soul. The country in which I now live is wealthier and more prosperous by far than the one I left, and in true British fashion is muddling through, but it is a country that has happily sacrificed much of its historic identity.

The solid and serviceable have given away to the transitory and garish, in everything from the way people furnish their homes to the kind of lives they set out to lead. Being British today is more about supporting a soccer team than belonging to a nation. In some ways Britain feels very much like a historic building whose innards have been gutted and replaced with decor that may for the moment be fashionable but in every other respect are transient.

I hope in due course I will have some mature and constructive comments to make about this reality, but right now I'm not ready so must continue nurturing my psyche and soul with the hope that in due course I can enter into British life with the kind of verve that I enjoyed those many years in the USA.