I watched a YouTube video recently. It was Brene Brown speaking on the anatomy of trust. (You can find it here:

As usual the presentation is clear and thought provoking. She has broken trust down into seven different elements. The one that stopped me in my tracks was ‘reliability’. She goes on to say ‘Reliability means that we must be very clear about our limitations so we don’t take on too much and come up short and fail to deliver on our commitments’.

Essentially this means we must know when to say no. Or when we can’t say no, we must learn to let go of things we have held precious.

But as I reflect on this I realise that there is something more to this too. My limitations aren’t constant. They fluctuate. I am perhaps most aware of the times I have failed to deliver because of some personal upheaval.

I think for me there is a twofold message – firstly, I do need to be more aware of my own limitations. Secondly, when I know that my capacity has changed temporarily in a way which is affecting my reliability I need to communicate.

Another of the elements she mentions is being able to ask for help. I think these two things are inextricably related. I can only be reliable at a reasonably high level, if I am going to be willing to ask for help. In any long term endeavour there will be times when I need help precisely because life happens and curve balls come along. The only way to be consistently reliable without asking for help is to underfunction.

So I think I’m holding two things today – know when to say no or let go, and know when to ask for help. I feel there may be learning opportunities in my future!

A different kind of thin place

In the Celtic tradition there is the notion of ‘thin places’. Traditionally this is meant to mean that in these places heaven and earth seem a little closer. I think I would express this as places where I find it easy to encounter God. There are certainly places that I can go to where this does seem real.

But there is another kind of thin place. A place where I find easy to connect with myself. They are places where I find deep tranquility, and a visit is always profoundly restorative on a level which is hard to describe.

I’m deeply grateful that over the last year or so I have had frequent access to one of these places. I can escape for a weekend and bask in the calm of my soul. When this first became a possibility, I thought I would bring friends here, but the more often I come, the more I realise that I crave the sanctuary of solitude when I am here.

As I recognise this quality of thinness I begin to understand why I desire to be here alone.

A week…

Last week was probably one of the most frustrating weeks I’ve experienced in a long time. It was frustrating because for reasons I simply do not understand my brain was just not functioning as it normally does. I made mistakes that I don’t normally make. I forgot things I don’t normally forget. I missed appointments. My ineptitude required my colleagues to step in in a way that I don’t normally require.

It was a hard week. And I am glad that I am where I am. The colleague most affected has the best interests of the students at heart, so went the extra mile. And other colleagues I encountered and confessed my unexpected incapacity to were kind and compassionate.

I don’t have an adequate explanation for what happened. I simply don’t know. In terms of my job it was a bad week. And yet, at the same time a paper that I wrote was finally published in Presence. I have never received such positive feedback for a paper yet. Obviously, I wrote the paper many months ago, but it was very helpful to get those responses in this week. This week when I was struggling so much, a paper I wrote some time ago was finally ‘out there’ and deeply appreciated. It was balm for my distressed system.

I hope a quiet, gentle weekend has restored the good functioning of my brain!

The gift of education

I finally got around to reading my way through Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. At 800+ pages of fairly dense academic writing it is no mean feat. It is a truly remarkable book. In it Taylor tracks the history of faith in what he calls ‘North Atlantic societies’ (meaning the USA and Western Europe).

I found the development of his argument both compelling and fascinating. Perhaps though, the one thing which remains with me is a profound sense of gratitude for my own education. And I mean this in the broadest sense. His argument is strewn with illustrations from across the spectrum from Isaac Newton to William Blake; from Bach to Derrida.

I was acutely aware of how much more difficult it would have been to engage in reading this book if I was not culturally embedded in the world he was illustrating. So many of the references were all the more powerful because I already had the frameworks he was drawing on in my head.

I think back to one of my MTh students last year, who really struggled with the reading. At the time, I don’t think I really appreciated what her struggle was beyond the discipline of actually sitting down and focusing on words on the page. Having engaged with Charles Taylor, I am so much more aware of the deep associations I can draw on almost unconsciously. It must be a deeply disorienting experience if one cannot make those connections.

I think I can get a small glimpse of the alienation that some must suffer when they come to university.