Sunday 21 April 2013

Live Below The Line Day 5 and beyond

I finished my Live Below The Line challenge on Friday and I've waited before posting to let the reflections settle a bit!

So here we are:

1. I had food left  over.

2. At 00:01 on Monday morning I weighed 97.1kg and at 11:59pm on Friday evening I weighed 90.2kg.  I lost 6.9kg, or 1 stone 1 lb in five days.

3. I had four pence left-over.

4. Online I have raised £365 for Christian Aid - so far. I have some cash to add in, as well as a few pledges. But today online, is the equivalent of a £1 a day for a year, which has a nice feel to it. Thank you to all who have donated.

5. When I finished the challenge I didn't go all out and have loads of cake and stuff - I did have cake and cream (but just not loads), I had pizza on Saturday evening. All good stuff. But despite this "feast" to follow the "fast" four things struck me.

The first is that I am so in the habit of eating at set times and eating set things that I never let my hunger dictate to me when and what I eat. I eat my lunch if I am hungry or not.

Secondly, following on from the first: very rarely do I allow myself to be hungry, to have that tightness of tummy, that slight feel of discomfort that says, "I'm hungry". It's almost like I eat in advance of my hunger.

The third thing I have totally forgotten the practice of fasting, how helpful, how prayerful, how life-giving it can be. I'm not one who lives a particularly ascetic lifestyle but in the rhythm of eating when hungry and drinking water more regularly, I felt more "myself". I felt more able to easily slip into prayer, to turn my attention to the great issues of our age. It was definitely a focusing activity. And this week never started out as a fast, nor a pseudo-fast, but actually that is what it became. So I am seriously looking at how I can bring a discipline of eating/drinking back into my life more regularly.

The fourth thing is that I need to eat more simply.

So that's it. I've completed my challenge.

I am grateful for the encouragement and prayers and donations I have received. My prayer is that the money raised will feed those who do not have food.

Thanks everyone.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Live Below The Line Day 4

Woke up feeling pretty rough this morning, stormy night didn't help, but the tank was definitely empty.

The pervading and enduring reflection stemming out of this week is that while this is possible for a week (especially with the light at the end of the tunnel), if this was your actual life situation, week in week out, it would be utterly crushing.

A really draining experience, if you knew there was no way out of it.

Today, I bought eggs, canned tomatoes, two bananas and canned red kidney beans.

I had money saved over from yesterday, but don't worry people, today and tomorrow, I did not and will not eat more than a pounds worth of food and drinks.

Tonight we had an Annual Church Meeting, and even as a wheat-free-er there was lots of yummy things that could have been eaten, and I didn't, but it was like a window, (even, just for a glancing second), a window to see the other half eating and being merry.

A silly reflection, but more seriously:

how must it feels if you are constantly undernourished and expected to go about life as "normal"?
how must it feel to not be able to afford healthcare, a place to stay?
how must it feel to have lived in such a way, not for five days, but five years, or five decades, how soul crushing must that be?

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Live Below The Line Day 3

Quite simply, today I bought two bananas costing 19p in total.

I'm saving my money for tomorrow to buy eggs. I need protein and something to flavour rice!
I must admit, I'm amazed how far I can stretch one can of red kidney beans, chopped tomatoes, and sweet corn. Amazing really.

But I want to get some eggs into the equation tomorrow, but don't worry I won't be eating more than £1's worth of food. What this means in practices is that buy Friday, I will probably have spent my five pounds, but won't have eaten my five pounds worth of food. More likely I will have consumed £4.18's worth of food.

The overlap of 82p not spent today, and the 1p carried over from the first day.
So what I'm realising is another difficulty.

To actually be able to buy eggs and save up some money, in some respects means "losing out" on some of the money I've been given. I could have bought a bar of chocolate today and scoffed it, leaving just enough to be able to afford eggs tomorrow.

But I didn't.

What I've realised today, is that there is a general ache that goes alongside this fatigue. It's a dull kind of ache.
Yesterday I estimated that my calorific intake was probably at about 800 calories. Which, really, is incredibly significant once I move beyond the realm of a 24 hour / 36 hour fast.

My days are as busy, but I'm getting by on probably 1600 calories less than previously.

Perhaps, after weeks of this the body would adjust, would get used to such little energy, but I'm not sure. I don't know how a day-labourer in a South American mine, or a farm worker in Ethiopia can get by doing manual labour on a lot less calories.

Especially when you consider the longer-term effects of not getting the different food groups in there. After weeks of little protein. Or weeks of little vitamins....

I really noticed this fatigue this morning. (Yes its hit me already, I'm a fat, lazy westerner), but getting out of bed was a push. A bigger chore than normal.

Anyway, I'm tired. So I'm going to get to bed soon. And I'm hungry.

I could have been wiser today.

But part of that lack of wisdom was down to the sheer busyness of the timetable of work today. But also of the challenge of getting my head around what needed to be saved, what could be spent, and what could be eaten each day!

I don't regret today, but I am reminded of the challenges that people in our society living on low or no incomes might well find themselves facing.

Today I also learnt that on Good Friday, the Food Bank in Nantwich had 81 people come needing food.

That's a lot of families struggling.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Live Below The Line Day 2

Okay, today, I bought two bananas, a can of sweet corn, a can of chopped tomatoes and a can of red kidney beans.

Its fair to say that while my food is more canned than normal, its probably a lot more fruit, vegetable and simple rice grain based than usually.

Today I have really noticed two differences (on a practical level).

The first practical difference is that being wheat-free makes shopping on a tight budget really hard. There's no opportunity to shop for cheap pasta, for cheap soups, for cheap bread. That brings with it a real challenge, as I try to find the right balance of wanting to eat a variety of foods, but realising that it's hard to actually do.

The second practical difference I have noticed is that when you can't bulk buy, things cost a lot more. I can buy six battery hen eggs for 95p, or 15 battery hen eggs for £1.15.

Of course, buying battery eggs isn't really good anyway, but it is striking that if I use all my money tomorrow I can get six eggs and have 5 p change. But that if in the last two days I hadn't bought a carrot and one banana, I could have saved up and bought fifteen eggs.

My reflections today are pretty mundane, it has to be said. I feel like I'm fully getting into the Spirit of this challenge, and while it isn't a fast, its feeling more and more like one. That little buzz of hunger that is settling into my tummy is a reminder of the goodness of God that I take for granted everyday.
And the banana I had for my breakfast at 11:30 this morning was absolutely gorgeous. I can't remember the last time such a simple item of food, was so enjoyable and lasted so long!

I also have a growing craving for chocolate, especially as Clare and E are both eating their Easter eggs at the moment. And even little L has started eating in the last two days, baby rice and apple puree stuff!

Physically, I'm also getting that low energy ache that goes with fasting. Nothing major, but my overtly overfed body saying, "wow, what is happening!!!"

The stomach feels tighter and more comfortable.

But now to bed. Another full day at work tomorrow.

Monday 15 April 2013

Live Below The Line Day 1

Today I have begun my Live Below the Line challenge. For the next five days I will be spending five pounds on my food and drink. A solitary pound will provide for my food and drink each day.

There are exceptions: I'm allowed water! And I'm allowed the other things of life, medicines, a place to stay, electricity, heating - etc, etc.

But the principle is simple. To live on just £1 a day. To live below the extreme poverty line. And while this will never be an accurate thing, this week will have its own challenges.

So here I am near the end of day one.

Today I spent my pound (or 96p of it) on:
1kg budget rice - 40p
80 budget (but still fair trade) tea bags - 35p
can of mushy peas - 15p
carrot - 6p

There seem to be different ways of doing this challenge. Live Below the Line suggest planning a menu, or spending five pounds at the beginning of the five days but only using a pound of food and drink each day. The difference this makes is that you could buy a 40p carton of milk to use throughout the week, or 6 eggs for a pound, and still be able to buy other foods on the first day, so use a teabag, and an egg, and rice, etc.....

I've decided against this, I'm taking a subsistence approach. Imagining, if you like, that I'm living off a daily-labourer's pay (admittedly pay received at the beginning of the day!)

Also, the Live Below the Line website has recipe guidance that suggests things like, 'use of herbs - 2p', or 'teaspoon of oil - 4p'. Those kind of things. The idea being that a 40p pot of herbs, might only cost 2p for a portion of the herbs for use in another recipe. But I'm not sure I wanted to go down that road, to presume that there was a reserve of herbs to dip into!

 As a result, food is bland!

My reflections today aren't really about hunger or tiredness, (I do feel more tired now, but I have a cold coming on too. And I can tell I've not eaten yummy chocolate!)

I've done 24 hour and 36 hour fasts before, so my reflection isn't on lack of food.

My main reflection was actually on the process of actually shopping for these items. Feeling the metaphorical weight of the money.Being in a store and being so pre-occupied with counting up the costs. Of having to put certain items back. Of saying to myself, "well I'll have to buy that tomorrow."

It's been a while since I have had to watch my wallet so closely. But in this age of Food Banks, it's probably a common experience for many. It's nearly two years since I last went into a supermarket and had so little to spend that I was using the loose change to pay for the shopping.

This will be a revealing week.

Friday 5 April 2013

Swimming with Bonhoeffer

Okay, a confession as we begin. I’ve not been swimming with Bonhoeffer. Although saying that, there could have been a Bonhoeffer in the pool and I might not have known about it, but the main point is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wasn’t in the pool.

So, moving on from that.

About six months ago I started taking my delightful three year old E swimming. We go every week and have a half-hour lesson. It’s pretty much the highlight of my week and it’s a fantastic daddy-daughter-date where E and I are able to have a chat about what’s going on. We talk about the weather, her friends, what she wants for lunch, how cold she is. All the big existential stuff.

And then we get to the swimming part.

E wears three little arm floaty-disc things on each arm and over the last six months I’ve seen her grow in confidence such a huge amount. And if I’m honest, my times swimming with E have been the most profound spiritual experiences of my weeks. This is the activity that grounds me, that gives me perspective and that also teaches me innate truths about God, and our relationship with him.

I’m sure that many of you will have heard plenty of anecdotal stories about how supporting a child, or encouraging someone to grow in confidence and take baby steps is easily used as a metaphor for the relationship of human-becomings with their creator.

If you’re not into such anecdotal analogies, it’s probably best to stop reading.


I’ve been wanting to write a reflection on these experiences for a while, but today something prompted this to happen more urgently. So here we are.

When E and I first started swimming, she would cling on to me. She wouldn’t let go. She held tightly to me, I have the nail marks to prove it.... But E was at the point in her swimming journey where she needed to be held tightly. She wasn’t ready to go anywhere without me, in this narrative I just happen to be “Daddy”.

Gradually over time, weeks after we started, E was getting braver and braver. She would only hold loosely to me. She would only hold me with one tight-fisted hand.

Slowly but surely, after this she began to move out further into the water. She would let go of me and kick with her legs. But she would say words that as a human and a father, I delighted in.

“Daddy I need you.”

To which I would constantly reply as I held my hand under her belly to support her,

“I’m here gorgeous. I’m not going anywhere.”

We would then smile.

And off she would go again.

The cry would come out of her mouth if she felt at all panicked,


And my right hand would gently rise up from the water and prop up her belly.

“I’m here gorgeous. I’m not going anywhere.”

Then our eyes would meet, and we would smile. Me content that she’s safe and that actually, she likes having me there. Her safe in the knowledge that Daddy has got her.

This has happened throughout our time swimming together, she’s constantly been growing in confidence and swimming ability, she’ a fast learner and loves the water.

E has grown, and she has grown knowing that Daddy’s hand is there within a second if she needs it. No messing round.

“I’m here gorgeous. I’m not going anywhere.”

This has been our journey, a shared and lovely one.

A few weeks ago I noticed that she was relying on me being there less and less.

And then today.

Today, we were at the pool, we were swimming side by side, and she looked at me, and said,

“Daddy, I don’t need you, go over there.”

My pride at my daughter’s confidence and swimming ability was stopped from swelling up inside of me by my own rising insecurities, “she doesn’t need me!!!! My little girl doesn’t need me!”

E was going off on her own, with her floaty-arm band things, zooming around the pool, with me consigned to sit in the corner of the pool at the edge of everything.

And she swam everywhere. And loved it.

A couple of times she looked over at me, but actually, she was happy enough.

At one point she panicked, and within two seconds I was there with her, the hand ready to steady her belly. She smiled, and said again,

“Daddy, I don’t need you, go over there.”

For months I’ve been thinking about the relationship of a father and daughter swimming as an analogy, for the relationship of a disciple with Christ. A follower and their relationship with God.

Which brings me to the cheesy line, something like something said in Gavin and Stacey:

“And that’s a bit like us and God” (or something).

Today’s experience only added to the need to write this.

As a follower we begin the journey of discipleship clinging to God, holding on for dear life, and the voice of God speaks to us in our despair and our worries, and says, “I’m here gorgeous. I’m not going anywhere.”

And as we grow in confidence we do more and more things, with God an ever present. Safe in the knowledge that God’s hands will support our belly’s if we need it.

And here the analogy splinters.

Because, actually, the call for the disciple, is to remain ever-close to God in journeying onwards.

A child will eventually learn to swim without their Daddy. And that is actually to be encouraged.

But the analogy splinters too, because actually, as disciples, I think it’s possible to grow in faith, to grow in confidence and assurance of God.

And actually, then to move on from saying, “Daddy, I need you”, to “Daddy, I don’t need you, go over there.”

And I think, that is the moment, the action, the notion, the concept, that made me write this post today.

The idea that as we grow in faith, in discipleship, in confidence in God and of his call, of his giftings, of his will for us, it can actually be easier to actually grow away from God.

That we grow, that we journey on in discipleship and do so, to the point where as, professionalised Christians, we don’t actually need God.

We no longer rely on him.

We no longer actively look to see where God is.

The God who has fed us milk, who has taken baby steps with us, who has held us closely and encouraged us in our walks with him.

We step out into the world, ready to do his will, ready to grow and build the kingdom with and for him.

But as we grow in confidence and faith, we actually take our eyes off God. And because of this we lose ourselves.

We don’t lose our faith in God.

We just don’t know why it matters anymore.

We become so proficient, too proficient at the life of faith, that we no longer need or even glance towards God.

And through the last 18 months or so, through the dark, darker and even darker, I realise that is where I have got to.

“Daddy, I don’t need you anymore, go over there.”

This is a challenge, and this can happen in every walk of life, in every journey of faith. I would argue that I think the danger is especially strong regarding “professional Christians”. Those whose full-time work is the work of the God stuff.

And my status with God, that’s not a new revelation to me today. That’s a long conversation that’s been going on for 18 months. That’s a conversation with diocesan officers, with bishops, with incumbents, with a counsellor, with a spiritual director, with friends, with fellow disciples.

That’s a conversation that runs and runs.

But as I look back through the scanner darkly, through the haze of stress and sadness, I see God at work at times, in other places I see only endless shadow, infinitely dark.

But as I sit here now, with the embers of a discipled-faith, not going out, not growing, but just smouldering safely away, I can recognise that so much of what has gone before has taken place because of the voice that says to God, “Daddy, I don’t need you, go over there.”

And that has been my voice, battered down and trampled on.

But it’s also been the voice of the context with its unrealistic expectations.

It’s been the voice of the model of ministry which, truth be told, finds an active faith as something that gets in the way of things that need doing.

It’s been the voice of superiors who have repeatedly said, “I’m greedy for your time.”

The one voice who it hasn’t been, is God’s.

God’s voice doesn’t say, “Daddy I don’t need you, get over there.”

Naturally God doesn’t banish himself, but God also doesn’t distance himself purposefully from the disciple. God doesn’t long for the day when the disciple will step so far out in faith that he or she won’t look back.

It’s one thing to get out of the boat and start walking on the water. To look to Jesus and say, “Daddy, I need you.” Before falling into the cold water below.

But it’s another thing, to get out of the boat, to start walking, to glance at Jesus and then keep walking. Walking the full-length of the lake, then walking out of the lake, across the beach, over the fields, over the hills and onwards across distant seas, only turning around to shout back, “Daddy, I don’t need you, go over there.”

Jesus wants the disciple to get out of the boat, and walk, but never to forget him totally.

Jesus sends them out in pairs. But the idea is that they come back. They don’t just keep walking in their own meandering direction.

When I was writing my MA dissertation about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s notion of New Monasticism and how it should shape the church, I was struck by a beautifully profound part of Bonhoeffer’s classic work, Discipleship.

Below is a short extract from my dissertation, it quotes from the Fortress Press editions of Discipleship and Ethics.

Bonhoeffer suggests that those who follow Christ become, ‘members of the community of the cross, they will be people of the mediator’ (Discipleship, 99). Part of this new citizenship will mean watching Jesus go to the cross, and being, ‘overcome with amazement and fear at the way to which he has called them.’ (Discipleship, 99)  Being conformed to Christ, ‘to the one who has become human - that is what being really human means.’ (Ethics, 94). In a discussion of Mt 6:5-8 Bonhoeffer writes of the disciple’s need for their own will to die,


My will has died when Jesus’ will alone reigns in me and all of my will has been drawn into his. It has died in community with Jesus, in discipleship. (Discipleship, 154).

And for me, the phrase, ‘overcome with amazement and fear at the way to which he has called them” is absolutely key.

And it’s a phrase that has hung around with me since I read it.

The disciple is called to walk with Jesus.

The disciple is called to walk with Jesus towards the cross.

The disciple is called to walk towards the cross with Jesus, and this should be a process that overcomes the disciple with amazement and fear.

At no point does the disciple say, “Daddy I don’t need you, go over there.”

Deep down, once I’ve got past my “father-love-psychobabble-need-to-be-needed-ness” I know that I am delighted with the progress that E is making!

That she is more prepared to for anything, if she’s walking by water without me.

But the journey with discipleship is a different thing. It’s a journey that can and should only be walked with God.

And it’s a journey where the disciple should always, always, always, be in the habit of saying, “Daddy, I need you.”

But yet I recognise that if we lose sight of the cross we’re supposed to be walking with Jesus towards, then it’s no wonder that sometimes we lose sight of Jesus.

Perhaps before we utter the words, “Daddy, I don’t need you, go over there”, we should take a look around, refocus our eyes on the cross and realise afresh that we can only walk towards the cross with Jesus. Without Jesus with us, we’re not walking towards the cross at all.