The waiting game

About two weeks ago I was asked for a quote for translating 200,000 words. That’s quite a lot. Having spent about half a day trying to put together a sensible estimate, this all went quiet, until a few days ago, when I received a fresh request: what was the shortest time I could possibly do this in, if the order came on Friday?

I put in a fresh quote in on Tuesday evening – and settled down to wait.

Well, “settled” is not the right word. If I get this order, it will mean working flat out until the end of January – and that’s being optimistic. If I don’t, I have plenty of time to relax and do other things, and look for more work.

Getting this order would also precipitate our decision to get some fancy new translating software, which we need to figure into our end-of-year accounts, but obviously we can’t make any decisions until we know about the project.

So I’m sitting here not sure whether I’m supposed to be limbering up for a translating marathon, or winding down with the approaching end of the university term – and not sure which I’d prefer. In the mean time, halting between the two perspectives is driving me nuts.

More shakedown

This blog relates my story since March 2004, when I resigned as pastor and member of the church we started with a dozen or so others in May 1989. It had grown to over 200 and was the victim of a coup d’état staged behind my back by my two fellow-elders with the unreserved support of the movement we had been part of for the previous nine years. This coup focused on my removal at all costs and mirrored this movement’s actions in many other places (see previously cited link here).

Some six months after this, and some four months after that movement’s “apostolic delegate” had appeared at a meeting of the church proclaiming himself an “expert on healing sick churches”, and as related here, these two elders left, again with the support of their church movement, to plant a new church. Those left in the building fell further into the grip of other manipulators seeking to promote a weird brand of mystical prophecy.

I’ve just heard that the ‘survivors’ in the church building have given notice they are leaving, in six months’ time. It’s probably the beginning of the end for that group. We’ve thought for a while that with the departure of the others, they would be struggling to pay the rent, and they have been losing people steadily ever since.

Getting that 500m² building in the first place was an epic tale of prayer. It served for several years as a source of inspiration to other groups and a place for a variety of christian gatherings. When we got it, it was a bare warehouse. Many of us worked our guts out (and emptied our wallets) painting the floor, plasterboarding, laying laminate flooring, and so on. Now it’s all on the block.

Once again any sense of vindication is very largely tempered by a huge sense of sadness at the waste and loss. Church buildings in France are hard to come by and the symbolic loss is immense, but it’s also a reminder of just how much damage was done by those initial foolish and untrue accusations. People have wandered from the faith, others are going nowhere, and the kingdom-of-God impact of several organisations linked to the church or even distantly associated with it have suffered greatly as a result.

And how much responsibility have the original accusers ever admitted in all this? None at all.

Whither next?

November 1st and 11th are both bank holidays here, and we made the most of them to get away – first to St. Martial, then to the UK to visit our families, which was a good chance to take stock and enjoy time together.

The unrest in France seems to have caught international attention. Like most of these things, unless you are directly affected (which we have not been), it has not had any immediate impact on us. If you’d like to see my thoughts on it all you can pick up on my posts here, and you could do worse than read this Economist article which I think is a fairly good summary.

The hard thing about going away, of course, is coming back. At present teaching commitments seem to stretch to the horizon without a break in sight. I enjoy the actual teaching but I find getting ready to do it stressful. I think I probably did take on too many hours this year given the amount of translation work we’re getting, but of course that was impossible to predict. And I can’t escape the feeling that there should be more to life than this.

While in St. Martial we caught up with some folk who live near there who were once part of a church plant we did nearby, which folded shortly before our own situation caved in. We found them throwing themselves into their business and making quite a success of it. But as the husband says, “it doesn’t satisfy”. Like them, we throw ourselves into our work, partly it is to be hoped with the aim of doing a good job, but also to avoid dwelling on more painful things. Like them, we feel it doesn’t satisfy. And like them, I find it very difficult to overcome the huge reticence I now feel to become more implicated spiritually because of how much damage it did last time around.

We hear from others who have been through similar things and it would appear things get better. We hope.

Fat cows, thin cows

In church I’ve started preaching through the story of Joseph. Mostly, it must be admitted, as a means to self-understanding – though I think some corporate self-understanding is appropriate too. I’ve just got to the bit about the seven fat cows and the seven thin cows. Re-reading A Smile on the Face of God by Adrian Plass (the best book of his I have read), I bumped into an allusion to them too, and realised they might make a neat little metaphor for a blog entry.

On the work front, we are definitely still in a “fat cow” stage, in fact the last week could again be described as a “positively obese cow” stage. This has resulted in a satisfyingly large number of bills going out to an equally satisfying wide range of clients – broadening our base has been a preoccupation, and I was particularly pleased to do some work for a local company I doorstepped months ago. I do wish it wouldn’t all arrive at once though. Mrs Eutychus has been busy in Slovenia, too. We have been in touch through Skype regularly reviewing translation jobs. It’s easier to talk between France and Slovenia than from room to room in this house, and just as free.

Seeing the church side of things as a thin cow period helps nurture the hope that some day we might see fatter times spiritually too. Unfortunately, unlike Joseph at this point, I don’t seem to have any great storehouses of hoarded spiritual energy to throw open, though. I notice this most at the prison, where I’m beginning to feel I’m wearing a little thin.

One of the things that makes me the most angry about what we’ve been through is that I feel robbed of a large part of what used to make up my spirituality by people having acted so inappropriately in that context. Working through that sometimes feels like it might take at least seven years…

Oh well. In the meantime we have ordered the DVD of Joseph and the amazing Technicolor dreamcoat. All together now… I closed my eyes/drew back the curtain…

Up for air

I'm having a hard time remembering what I've done since I last blogged. Things have gone from inertia to mayhem in a big way.

Translation jobs over the last few weeks have included a technical audit for an office block in Paris (this was a stay-up-till-2am rush job), some signing for a forthcoming building exhibition, subtitles for a little promotional film on Loire Valley wines, and a cross letter to a bank. Mrs. E meanwhile is steadily translating a long list of clipart, helping with the audit, embarking on a long patent concession agreement, and preparing to go to Slovenia for a week's interpreting – in between doing our termly VAT return.

Also meanwhile, my various worlds collided when I did some interpreting of a conference about back-to-work strategies for people suffering from mental disorders. I knew most of the organisations from pastoral work, and I'd just sectioned someone earlier that week…

In today's news, I encountered one of my former co-elders for the first time since our troubles of 18 months ago (I've lost a whole year in all this. I just can't remember 2004 at all). Given that we live about ten minutes' walk from each other, it's amazing (or a sign of grace) that our paths don't cross more often. I thought I might be ready for this after all this time, but my emotions seemed to think otherwise. Before any rational thought, the emotion was fear.

What is it about Wednesdays?

Workwise, the last two weeks have been very quiet. This week more of my university classes have begun, and the rest begin next week – which is of course the cue for work to pile up for the business, too. But this is a relief.

During the recent down time I was spurred to set down our experiences in being frozen out of our last church in some detail (the results can be found here). Perhaps it’s another measure of improvement that I feel able to set the story down in this way, and go semi-public with it. If it can help any others come to terms with similar experiences, so much the better.

However in the prayer meeting this evening, several people seemed to be aspiring to swelling the church’s numbers by attracting back some of the former flock still going elsewhere – including some of our key adversaries. I found this difficult because a) were it to happen, as things stand I really don’t trust some of these people not to come and do it all to us all over again b) some of the others might be in need of serious reprogramming – we’ve shifted in style quite a bit from what they are probably used to by now c) it suggests that people might be seeing transfer growth as an easy option to evangelism.

I’m also struggling with some people’s prayers and semi-prophecies for the restoration of my ministry. I feel a pressure to conform to their expectations, and this in turn makes me wonder about how much some of the things I used to do were born not so much of personal conviction but more of bowing to this kind of pressure. And I wonder how it is that whether it’s in the clutches of persecutors or in the welcome of supporters, I can’t seem to escape meetings where a major topic is my own state.

Finally, this brought on talk of ‘reconciliation’ which opened another whole can of worms inside me. Our folks are understandably upset to feel bad when they pass some of the other lot. Of course I’d like that to be resolved, but I’m concerned that in misplaced application of grace, people will be ready to brush over the past for the sake of avoiding the awkwardness it created, and call it ‘reconciliation’ – a course of events which I fear could lead straight back to abuse. To me, reconciliation involves acknowledgment of wrongdoing, which doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming.

All this makes me depressed and confused about what if any leadership role I should be taking in all this.

In the mean time, I’m feeling slightly more upbeat about things in the prison. There’s a guy who wants to get married to his long-standing girlfriend at the earliest opportunity, and they seem quite keen for it to be me to do it. I nurture the hope that this might lead to more in time. Give me a (hopefully retired) drug dealer over a church leaver any day.

If not varied, nothing

Alternating between inertia and mayhem seems to be a permanent way of life for me. Last weekend I was in Paris for the first session in three years’ worth of counselling training sessions. I confess I checked out the gnomon at the Eglise de St Sulpice which I found was not far from where my course takes place. There are strident notices pointing up the inaccuracies in The Da Vinci Code‘s treatment of the site, but the gnomon does look a bit weird stuck across a church.

The counselling training promises to be interesting (Mrs E has already done the course, so I know more or less what to expect).

I found myself in front of a university class for the first time since the summer earlier this week, which has reassured me that I still know how to teach. However, most of my classes don’t get going until next week. The following day I did a quick trip to the other end of Brittany to do a voiceover for a video. I hadn’t done one in years, and strangely enough on the same day I got a request to do yet another. I got back just in time to head off to do my prison chaplaincy stint. Then it was back to the inertia.

Yesterday evening we had our usual prayer meeting. This got largely taken up with the proposal of one of the attenders to do all-night prayer vigils, based on Isaiah 58. For starters, it seems to me that this passage is about doing things rather than about praying. And it transpired that this person was really keen on the whole atmosphere of an all-night time of spiritual warfare (or something) but wanted no part in the organisation. If no-one else was prepared to organise it, it was that the church was “not ready…”.

It was at this point that I began to remember why I sometimes never want anything to do with organised christianity again. However it was also at this point that I did my most fervent praying of the meeting, to find the right thing to say. This turned out to be “what would it take for you to go ahead with organising this?”. From here there was a slow but discernible return to reality and the threat of conflict retreated. We actually managed to do some praying after that.

It’s nonetheless a source of despair to me that churches sometimes seem to encourage people to set their spiritual experience in opposition to real life instead of integrating it, and even let people get away with thinking this is a holy thing to do. Or “canonising their pathology”, as I have just learned to say.

A strange moment

I had a few moments spare between taking Esther to the orthodontist and a company class this morning and took the opportunity to drive out to a quiet spot not far from town. It happens to be near an old firing range, where Résistance fighters were executed during the occupation.

I’ve been there quite a few times, but this is the first recent visit. As I wandered around, the realisation came over me that these people died in the name of something I am now part of by virtue of my newly-acquired nationality. It’s the first time it’s really hit me since hearing this news some two weeks ago.

My reverie was interrupted only by short bursts of machine-gun fire coming from the nearby, current firing range.

Holiday snapshots

Time to log on again with a roundup of the last few weeks.

Mrs. E and I plus Esther and Yann travelled to Fort William where we dropped off the latter two with their cousins on holiday. We then returned to Glasgow where we made it to a Shipmeet. From there we flew to Toronto, being very happy not to have flown from France a few days earlier or from anywhere else the following day because of the ensuing congestion.

We had 5 days in Canada but we made it seem like longer. On Day 1 we promptly left Canada via Niagara Falls. Getting into the US by car for non-US citizens is now quite an adventure. We went to Buffalo NY to sample Buffalo Wings here, catch a glimpse of the Martin House, see the location of Bruce Almighty, and generally say we had been to the US.

On Day 2 we did the downtown Toronto thing (CN tower, island trip, etc). On Day 3 we went to church, not resisting taking a look at this one not too many blocks from our hotel. Eleven years late, perhaps, but good to see the church with a real local presence (as opposed to just a conference ministry) and to be invited for lunch afterwards. We didn’t take up the offer as we were keen to make Wasaga Beach (counting this as seeing another Great Lake, having previously dealt with Michigan and got Erie in on Day 1 and Ontario on Day 2, though Canadians seem to think Georgia Bay does not count as part of Lake Huron). To our surprise the water was warm and to our frustration, for once in our lives we did not have our swimming stuff with us.

On Day 4 we visited a local probation centre followed by a prison. I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to look inside a Canadian one and a few calls beforehand got us in touch with the right folks here. What an open place Canada is. The conclusion of this visit is that prisons are different everywhere, and also the same everywhere. In the evening we had another mini-Shipmeet.

On Day 5 we did our laundry, developed our photos, visited the Royal Ontario Museum (brief conclusion: Towneley Hall is almost as good and free) and had yet another mini-Shipmeet before flying back to Glasgow and having still another mini-Shipmeet before returning to the Highlands and thence homewards amidst the sounds of our gearbox complaining bitterly.

Much could be said about this trip but the summary has to be that God is good. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so consistently blessed in so many ways. This appears to be out of all proportion to anything spiritual I might have done, but I guess that’s the nature of grace. The trip was also the first time I’ve shed any tears in relation to what happened to us, and I hope that is a step further along the road to healing.

Arriving home, I also realised that I had quite effectively ceased to think about our recent troubles for most of our time away. Returning has brought them back into focus somewhat. Our “new” church has carried on meeting in our absence and the building still looks ok, though I am still waiting for someone to do something about the electricity. Quite a few people are still away, so it’s a little early to take the pulse of our fellowship for the coming year.

Finally, amongst the incoming mail awaiting us on our return was a letter telling us that after waiting for the best part of three years, we had acquired French nationality. We don’t yet have the standard paperwork that goes with this (a further wait of six months or so), but it’s good to know we’ve made the cut.

We are family

Is and Liam and their three small children have arrived with us for a week’s stay. They have been really hospitable to us on our trips to the UK, so we certainly owe them. I’m just glad our noise-hypersensitive neighbour seems to have disappeared for the summer and that Mrs. E and I can evacuate to Lydie’s room. Schlimblick and the kittens have elected to take up residence in the office and we are doing our best to ensure the visiting cousins don’t discover the kittens.

Last week I belatedly got around to pulling some holiday plans together. These now involve getting Esther and Yann to somewhere north of Fort William before getting to a Shipmeet in Glasgow, followed closely by one rather further afield for our 20th wedding anniversary (did I mention I like Google Maps?).

Booking this online with a non-UK credit card has been an adventure, but seems to have worked. Now, we just have to make it to all those destinations and back again. We’ll only have five nights afar but we’re hoping this will be enough to have a real break.

Meanwhile, there is something disturbing going on at home. Not only have three kittens been produced, we noticed a couple of weeks ago that our rowan tree has produced a sapling. We’ve just noticed that it has produced two more. It’s hard not to see some sort of reference to new life springing up. Just as long as these demonstrations of fertility remain at the non-human level, that’s ok.