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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Keep doing the small good things.

Posted by Simon on October 9, 2015

Lesson of the day: keep doing the small good things. Because it’s right, and because you just never know what’ll come of them.

I’m a bit stunned, eyes welling up in fact, because I just found out that a tiny* thing I did 25 years ago – and had forgotten -, while working in a children’s home in El Salvador in 1990, turned into a partnership between two churches that has lasted for more than two decades!

leavesden rd baptist church

In honor of the work* I was doing at the children’s home run by Iglesia Bautista Emanuel in San Salvador, the church sent a painted wooden cross to Leavesden Road Baptist Church in Watford, UK, from where I had come (and had only spent a very short time before I went travelling). That cross sparked a partnership in the gospel, expressed in the common cause of social justice, between the two churches that has lasted ever since! Kind folks from the UK church tracked me down on the internet six months ago on my blog here but I only just saw it!

I can’t describe the feeling. It’s like a precious, completely humbling, gift of grace. A unexpected and undeserved ‘reward’ for something I can barely claim responsibility for doing.

* ‘tiny’, ‘work’ – two months in a children’s home where I started only with 2 words of Spanish, had no idea how to ‘organize sports’, or deal with 100 children from ages 2-18, or how to process the sound of bombs and bullets, or anything. Felt like a chump almost the whole time but was overwhelmed with love and bewildering generosity from the Salvadoran people. Can’t even begin to say how the experience changed me.

(I nicked the picture from the Leavesden Road Baptist Church​ facebook page. UPDATE: Very gladly this has been confirmed as the actual cross by Allan Humphris, and Len Holmes, two of the long-time members of the church who tracked me down, and who were visiting El Salvador earlier this year with a delegation from LRBC. How thrilling to realize this is the very same cross.

UPDATE 2: Len just sent me a photo of the back of the cross!

leavesden rd baptist church - back

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Hello World!

Posted by Simon on April 1, 2014

Now, that wasn’t so difficult was it, Simon?

Get those thoughts out of your head by writing a few words, think up a catchy title, and there you have it: A blog post!

Now don’t go waiting an entire year for the next one, eh?

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From the Guardian: Jason Russell: Kony2012 and the fight for truth

Posted by Simon on March 3, 2013

So much to discuss and learn from this article, but this quote sums up the dilemmas of social media:

“The democratisation of information is both liberating and beautiful and also totally horrifying because it can be built on lies and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. … It wasn’t that there was a plurality of stories out there. There was a multiverse of stories out there. There were so many stories, so many rumours, so many repeated untruths, so many unchecked facts and retweeted opinions, and half-baked half-lies, that the story, let alone the truth, never had a chance. In the brave new world of viral media, and socially mediated information, authoritative news sources are just another voice fighting to be heard.

http://m.guardiannews.com/world/2013/mar/03/jason-russell-kony-2012-interview

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Circle of Tears

Posted by Simon on November 4, 2012

Tears had already been shed on this beautiful Sunday morning, when sharing in the grief of losing our neighbor, Mary, 89, who had passed away in the early hours.

So we weren’t exactly far from more tears most of the day as the time drew near to take our friends and neighbors, K~ and A~, to the airport.

At the terminal we hugged and cried and expressed our love for each other once more, and said goodbye.

Sitting there at the bar, contemplating, my tears fell again.

Then I noticed our daughter M~, 5, looking at me. I don’t think she’d ever see me cry before. And I don’t think I’d ever seen such a heartbreaking look of sadness on her face as she felt my sadness.

So there we went, in this circle of tears, and the most comforting embrace you could possibly imagine.

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Encounter, Time and Place. Neighbors become friends.

Posted by Simon on November 2, 2012

Our neighbors are leaving.

A~ and K~, and their children, T~ and L~, are moving to North Africa.

We love them and we’re desperately sad they’re going.

Movie nights; pasta-making nights; sharing tools; shopping favors; book-lending; baby-sitting swaps; recipe-swaps; music-swaps; car-lending; taking both sets of children to the playground; doing multi-family yard sales together; kids’ sleep-overs; kids trashing each other’s places; sharing stresses of work or lack of work; easter egg hunts from the age the kids could only just walk; singing Happy Birthday in English, French and Spanish; A~ jabbing our daughter with an epipen to save her from an anaphylactic reaction to nuts; meals on their back deck; bbqs in our back yard; chats on their stoop; chats on our stoop; chats while snow-shoveling; chat’s beside storm-blown trees; chats beside fire/police/ambulance visits; chats about God, science, history, the future, family life, everything; sharing in grief of losing my dad; K~ sharing story of losing his dad; welcoming each other’s visiting parents, relatives and friends; keeping M~ partying to 4am on New Year’s Day; learning California Stars on the guitar. And so much more.

That’s the both the substance and the fruit of the friendship that’s grown over the years. Friendships are emergent. You can’t decide ahead of time who is going to be your close buddy. You’ll totally freak people out if you do. And not every person needs to become a ‘friend’. There is plenty satisfaction and reward in a simple, cordial relationship. But we’ve had the enormous pleasure of real friendship grow over the years.

It’s not that complicated. Friendship or just good relationship can emerge from simply being around – a combination of encounter (face to face meeting), time (frequency and continuity) and place (meeting in different contexts). That’s all we had really, none of us set out to make friends of each other. But encounter, time and place were the foundation upon which reciprocity, a bit of risk taking, reasonable boundaries, shared and divergent interests bore fruit in a deep affection for one another.

Along with our other amazing neighbors, they’ve given us such a sense of belonging to somewhere, of mattering to someone. It’s been so rich, and so unspeakably fulfilling, to live life on this street with A~, K~, T~ and L~.

God bless you, friends.

Posted in Continuity, Directness, Multiplexity, RelationalProximity, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Two talks this Thursday March 1st, Boston – Taking Relationships Seriously

Posted by Simon on February 28, 2012

Those of you who have read this blog over time know that relationships are  a recurrent theme; call it an obsession. There are two talks at an event I’ve arranged this Thursday March 1st. The first at noon is on “Relational Thinking”, by Michael Schluter, who has pioneered not just Relational Thinking but relational practice, for 30+ years. The second, at 1pm, is from Jonathan Rushworth, from their report “Tranforming Capitalism from Within: A Relational Approach to the Purpose, Performance and Assessment of Companies”.

If you’re in Boston on Thursday please come along!  -Tweet me at @sifowler  if you think you might come. Details below.

Taking Relationships Seriously

Lunchtime brown-bag presentations and Q&A with Michael Schluter and Jonathan Rushworth

Thursday March 1st

Park Street Church, Boston (entrance on Park Street)

12:00-12:45 An Introduction to Relational Thinking

12:45-1pm Coffee & Mingle!

1:00-2pm A Relational Business Charter

 

Relational Thinking: Personal and social wellbeing depends upon the quality of relationships within families and communities, and within and between organizations.  This presentation and Q&A will introduce you to Relational Thinking; an approach to society’s challenges that places relationships – not individual rights and freedoms or material wealth – at the center of our decision-making, purposes and actions.

You’ll hear how thinking relationally can lead to innovative and practical solutions to these challenges. For over 30 years Michael Schluter has taken the relational heart of “love your neighbor as yourself” and applied it to domains as diverse as conflict resolution in Sudan, Sunday trading in the UK, organizational stakeholder assessments in South Africa, the impact of work-life balance on family breakdown in Australia, philanthropic investment vehicles in the UK, and more.

Relational Business Charter: Since the financial collapse of 2008, there has been much economic and political hand-wringing about what is to be done to address systemic economic instability. The typical solutions are through regulatory or tax responses.  In this presentation and Q&A, Jonathan Rushworth will argue that these problems can be addressed if companies put relationships with stakeholders at the heart of their operations.  The presentation summarizes their recent report: “Transforming Capitalism from Within: a Relational Approach to the Purpose, Performance, and Assessment of Companies.”

I welcome you to join either or both of these presentations and encourage you to come at 11:45 or 12:45 to mingle with each other and meet Jonathan and Michael.

Please RSVP to me, Simon Fowler (simon.fowler@virgin.net). I encourage you to pass the invitation to others you think may be interested and ask also that they RSVP to me.  If you are unable to attend but are interested to know more about Relational Thinking please also contact me!

Jonathan Rushworth was a partner with a major City of London law firm for 26 years, specializing in company and finance law. He retired from practice in 2007 and is Chairman of Relationships Global.

Dr Michael Schluter CBE is an economist, author, and social entrepreneur. He worked as an economist with the World Bank and a Research Fellow for the International Food Policy Research Institute. He founded the Jubilee Centre, Relationships Foundation and Concordis International. He is now Chief Executive of Relationships Global.

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Where’s home?

Posted by Simon on August 3, 2010

I’ve been away for the last five weeks (and silly busy in the weeks before that, hence the blog silence) but within two weeks I wanted to come ‘home’. The weird thing about that feeling is that ‘home’ used to be, and in some ways still is, England. I’ve only lived in the US for 7 of my 43 years, but I wanted to be back here.

Actually, it’s not the US that feels like home, but the street I currently live on. I never before such a sense of belonging somewhere. So even though I was ‘away’ seeing my mom and siblings and wonderful friends I’ve known for decades, I needed a physical location to feel ‘home’. I mean a location, not just a house, that’s associated with people and relationships and a shared history (albeit fairly short).

I don’t know anyone now who lives in the town in which I spent the first 23 years of my life, and I don’t know anyone in the town where my parents retired to in the early ’90s. My sisters are scattered between across England, Scotland, Wales and New Zealand, and my friends are likewise scattered. So the only place I have a day to day continuity of relationship is where I currently live.

If I could gather my friends and family in England together in one place, where I could ‘pop in’ or where I’d bump into them serendipitously in the course of days and weeks, then for sure that would be home. But I can’t, so it isn’t. At least for now, this is.

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rLiving Day 30: Non-Memorial Day (Continuity, Commonality/Identity)

Posted by Simon on May 30, 2010

Memorial Day in the US is the last Monday in May. It’s equivalent to UK Remembrance Sunday which is second Sunday in November. And the message from both seems straightforward: don’t take your freedoms for granted since it was secured by the sacrifice of others, so remember them, and be thankful. Even today there are those dying so that others might be free, so remember them too.

Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity: A relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together. It includes a sense of shared history, and an anticipation of the future.

Relational Proximity Dimension #5 is Purpose/Commonality: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity.

“A nation is a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. – Ernest Renan”

The above quote was seen previously in this post, and originally by my friend Dana in the comments on this post . It sums up very well what Memorial Day, and Fourth of July, does functionally for people who call the United States of America their nation. Without conscious remembrance of the sacrifices of the past, a people may well forget who they are or why they are. You can’t build a national identity on a shared history if you don’t continually think about or remember that history. And you can’t build a common identity if you don’t ‘share’ – agree with – the reason for the sacrifices in the first place or if you don’t know or agree on what your ‘common life’ is for which you’d be prepared to sacrifice your life.

The combination of the lack of conscious remembrance and a vehement disagreement over the purpose of recent sacrifices seems to be one reason for a loss of national identity within western nations. I don’t know if you feel it, but I feel it.

But it’s an odd, and slightly uncomfortable, thing to build an identity on a common suffering and death even though that’s the normal context for reference to a nation’s character (i.e. who they are); 9/11 being the most recent example. I say ‘build’ as though it’s a conscious act, but of course identity and commonality is something inexplicable and unique that emerges from that cauldron of suffering. Those who have been through it, like soldiers in war, just know … they just KNOW … what binds them together. And when they forget what it was that bound them, then bound they are no more.

One wonders why then do we want to keep remembering the pain, the suffering, the injustice, the cruelty? Why not forget? Why not instead focus on the future, build something new? Or find something else, something stronger, more positive from the past. Or find something transcendent, something not contingent on circumstance. In fact there’s a paradox in that justice and truth screams at us to keep remembering, to never forget! But the goal of remembering, the goal of all proper attention to evil and injustice, is redemption, restoration, justice and peace. The hopeful future together presupposes the redeemed past together.

This paradox is embedded in the title of the book, “The End of Memory: Remembering rightly in a violent world” (which I haven’t read yet so what follows is pieced together from reviews). In it, the author Miroslav Volf – himself trying to ‘forget’ his experience of interrogation in former Yugoslavia – proposes the need and importance of ‘non-remembering’: “To be fully overcome, evildoing must be consigned to its proper place – nothingness”. But he’s not simply saying, “forgive and forget”. He’s talking about a right kind of remembering, the kind that has an aim to know the truth of what really happened in all its ugliness. The kind that for the sake of justice, Will Not Forget! That’s the “end’, the goal, of memory: to expose and reveal the truth. But ultimately, one wants to really ‘end’ remembering suffering and death. One wants just to not have to remember any more.

Like I say, I haven’t read the book, so I hope I’ve correctly got to the essence of it. But regardless, it does seem there’s a paradox here with memory and memorializing.

It’s likely this weekend is just a long holiday weekend for a lot of people. Time to really gear up for summer. Unless, that is, you happen upon a parade (as we had in Somerville today; that’s my daughter M~ above), or have lost someone in the theatre of war so cannot help remembering. And even if for those watching the parades, and participating. I do wonder how much we’re really remembering as we should, so that we can stop remembering as we should.

Paying proper close attention to – really remembering – the fact and reason for the sacrifice may yet restore a sense of commonality and pride in one’s national identity. The people of the United States have made many, many sacrifices for others. Perhaps with some courageous remembering, the right kind of remembering – even of recent wards – there’s a chance the people of this nation could really feel “a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”

As an Englishman, whose father served in Normandy in WWII and died last Remembrance Sunday, Nov 8 2009, I remember and thank you, people of the United States, and your sons & daughters who have given so much for us.

Posted in Continuity, first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I have no other explanation

Posted by Simon on April 2, 2010

20 years ago today, on Good Friday, I was sitting in the lounge at my parent’s house in Harrow, north-west London, happening to look at the clock, 4:20pm, and I thought to myself, “oh my! … wow! … God exists?!”. And then amazingly my life went in a different direction. So my dad said, a better one. I have no other explanation other than that the invisible God, who came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth that first Good Friday 2000 years ago and was crucified on a cross, inexplicably made himself known to me and put a different Spirit within me.

This isn’t an argument for faith, for faith in God, or even faith in Jesus Christ. This is just (part of) my story. Make of it what you will. I may dare, in future posts, to try to make an argument for those, but that’s not what this is. Everyone has a story to tell, and this is mine. The story is still ongoing. And truly, it will only make sense, to me or anyone, if it’s part of the bigger story that God himself is telling.

A few weeks earlier an American exchange student, Karen, turned up at my volleyball club. A normal, funny and energetic person who confounded me by being normal, having deep faith in Jesus Christ and was able to say, “er, yeh, I don’t know, that’s a good question, I don’t get that either”. Her realness made it impossible to write her off as a whack job.

I was 22, fit and healthy, and had friends, family, parents, sport, car, travel, money, girls. I was at the peak, really, of life. No need nor searching for God or party-pooping religion.

Conversations with Karen revealed a couple of things, both profound. One was that I’d never actually thought about my life, purpose, meaning, reality, God. I had no intellectual or reflective life at all. In fact, I didn’t read, or think, about anything. The other was that there was a depth – of wonder and of grief – to life that I hadn’t known but now realized was real. So I was compelled to give these some serious attention. In retrospect, that was probably the moment that God took the blinders off me.

She handed me Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. I read it. Didn’t get it. Read it again. Still didn’t get it. As I said, I had NO intellectual life. Twice more. And on the fourth time, at 4:20pm, that Good Friday, I thought, “Holy Cow!? oops, sorry lord! But wow!”. And that was it. It felt like a revelation, though deciding if I was going to live “for God” or not felt like a real decision, albeit a no-brainer.

I have no other explanation for what happened next other than that the Jesus-God changed my heart and mind: I started think and have compassion for the poor (and ended up in El Salvador during the civil war and in the Burmese jungle instead of sight-seeing around the world). I started feeling, and slowly showing, gratitude and love for my parents (my dad started liking me). I started to feel that maybe, given the ghastliness of the world, that maybe I should and could do something about it (still working out what that means). I started to take an interest in this amazing world (I developed an intellectual life and an appreciation for art and beauty). In my initial zeal I did go through an embarrassing black-and-white phase that I’m afraid didn’t show a lot of sensitivity or understanding to those who disagreed with me (I like to think I developed some humility quickly).

I’m sure more people do these things already, and do them better and with more heart and sincerity and actual action than I ever will. All I’m saying is that I changed, and I have no other explanation for it than Jesus the God-man who was crucified, so it seems, for me. Not just me, but yet me.

I say I changed because of him because I see and feel his death, and resurrection, as effecting love, truth*, forgiveness and reconciliation in me. Love, truth, forgiveness and reconciliation. These seem good to me. But they diminish when I pull away from God or think more about myself than of others, they grow as I trust in him and give my life for others.

That’s my story. Not everyone’s is like that, though I’ve met many who tell similar stories. It also doesn’t quite make sense yet. Life and reality doesn’t make a lot of sense yet actually. But I believe in One who ultimately will make sense of it. And so far it seems a good, even if not easy, path to be on.

* I want it. I don’t care, really, what it is, even if it ends up meaning that Jesus isn’t true. I don’t like hell or death and I’d love it if gravity would sometimes not be there, but if they’re real I’m an idiot to deny them. I’m aware of ontological and epistemological truths (told you I started reading), that there is Truth, and truth, and that some truths are relative. But I have both deep conviction and, as far as I’m able, a totally open mind to where the evidence takes me. You’ll have to take my word for it.

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The problem of pain and its cure

Posted by Simon on March 31, 2010

There’s no ultimate escape from pain. Gautama Buddha observed the inexorability of suffering. Shakespeare, before we knew about evolution by natural selection, saw “Nature, red in tooth and claw”. It seems that suffering is at the heart of reality itself.

Even if we do escape it for a time, it just reappears in a different form. Or in a different person.

So our main problem, as M. Scott Peck observed years ago, is that we think having a problem is the problem. We think that pain and suffering and trouble and strife are bizarre and embarrassing abnormalities in an otherwise smooth and happy world.

The cure for that problem, dear readers, is courage and hope. And you’ll find courage and hope amongst the poor and those who work alongside the poor. You’ll also find it, in a very different way, amongst scientists, researchers and others who look at some of the world’s toughest problems straight in the face, day after day, year after year.

You may even find it in yourself. Courage and hope in the face of pain. Not looking away, not pretending it isn’t there. But also not letting it have the last word, as though it determines the course or value of your life.

The source of courage and reason for hope depends to some degree on personality and circumstance: personal failure, job loss, accident, cancer, depression, traumatic injury, poverty – all provide different possibilities of hope and will be reacted to differently by individuals.

But hope must not be confused with optimism: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” So describes the Stockdale Paradox.

I confess that I don’t totally understand it. I’ve not been in such a situation as to warrant knowing the difference. But I believe it, and I’ve witnessed it, amongst the poor and oppressed in El Salvador and in Burma; stories I may tell another time. I also see it exemplified, in fact, defined and extended, in the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth on the night before he was crucified.

On Maundy Thursday we Christians [must] remember with solemn humility that Jesus, knowing the betrayal, abandonment, suffering and death that was before him, did two amazing things. First he shared a last meal with his disciples, including his betrayer. Second, he washed their feet and told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” In the face of death, Jesus turned his suffering into an act of love and an exhortation to love. Suffering, it appears, is at the heart of love, which is ultimate reality.

It is important also to remember, and to contemplate this Maundy Thursday, that his suffering was only just beginning. Resurrection was far off, almost unseen, almost unbelievable. Instead, death and hell was before him. A long, long night, increasingly alone, increasingly in despair.

Jesus suffered alone for us, so that we would suffer with, (lit. have com – passion), others. Because we have a God who literally identifies with our suffering, we can and must bear each other’s sufferings. We must bear it, in all its hideous ugliness and persistence.

People you know, or you yourself, know that there are usually no quick solutions to suffering; no platitudes, optimistic statements, or symptom relief that will satisfy. More than anything, you want presence; simple, helpless, powerless, wordless, loving presence that won’t give up no matter how bad it gets or how long it lasts.

On this day then, let’s cure the ‘problem’ of pain by being willing to face suffering, with and for each other.

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