Screen-Free holiday

Trying to be Tech-wise.

Norfolk screens - 1We had a wonderful family holiday in at the end of May, great weather in the stunning Norfolk countryside.  What made this holiday special, new and challenging was our decision to go ‘screen-free’ for a week.

fullsizeoutput_242fInspired by Andy Crouch’s brilliant book ‘Tech Wise family’ – we chose to black out our  screens, and see what happened.  We have 4 sons, aged 13,11, 9 & 7, they all love screen-time and so do I.    We explained the plan to them, repeated that and then explained it again just to clarify.  It wasn’t the last time we needed to remind or clarify.

How did we get on?

The iPad, (which is only used to consume), stayed at home.  iPhones came for essentials: contacting family, checking weather forecasts (important in the UK in spring) and music in the car (to sing along, not just consume) – social media apps all deleted. Laptop came with us, but packed away.  We packed stacks of board games, books and every piece of sporting equipment we could muster.

Let’s get to the honest bit, we didn’t manage it completely.  We did great for the first few days, but the phones and chargers had to be hidden in innovative places and frequent reminders issued.  After 4 days, we wanted a bit of quiet down-time in the afternoon to read, so we gave the boys a gift of one hour screen time.  Later in the week we indulged in watching a film together one evening, (note together – screens separate us).  Our youngest still wakes up much earlier than I wanted to, so I might have given him my phone once or twice, so that I could have a lie-in.

Staying off social media was really easy, but cricket’s Champion’s Trophy was on and the trigger instinct deep within me to know the score was ever-present.  I maintained my rule of not checking my screen when with the boys, but found a few sneaky ways to score-check through the day.  Taking photos is a part of shared creativity with my eldest, so the discipline to then not spend the evenings uploading, editing and posting them online was challenging as we tried to justify that.

Caleb on phone screenI was really impressed with our boys, they responded far better than I anticipated. They discovered the reality of addiction and temptation and how powerful that can be. They discovered how much they escape to screens for easy entertainment.  They also discovered great skills in justifying ways to find and use screens.  We were all reminded that in a large family, fairness is grasped passionately and more than once ‘But he is on a screen…!’ was shouted with great indignance.

I can only speak personally on the next layer down of internal mind-games, temptation, and justification.  I was interested not just in how strong the temptation would be, but the ways I would try and get round the trigger response to ‘just check….’

Email, not a problem, never once opened Mail.  The desire to check social media, post a good photo or share a witty thought was easily dealt with, but the longing to know the cricket score and the justification to check our wider family group in whatsapp was huge and I got quite creative in my self justification of breaking the fast.

What replaced screens?

A core point Andy Crouch makes in Tech-wise family is that technology is designed to make life easy, but that ease hinders the development of wisdom and character and with them resilience and creativity.  The hours we recovered from screen time, needed to be intentionally used for family life, activity and creativity.  We realised quickly as parents, that going screen-free meant investment from us.  We needed to be more present with the boys, we needed to help them to overcome boredom, we needed to play with them, read with them, walk with them, talk to them!  Having 4 children close in age brings its own challenges, but take away work and screens and that gave us the joy of overcoming those challenges.  The purpose of going screen-free wasn’t just to break addictions, it was to create family.


Knitted angels

Last week certainly took us by surprise.

Back in September  I received an email offering a plan for Christmas, the crazy idea of placing hundreds of knitted angels in Romiley as free gifts to our community.

One of my priorities is to empower and support the creative and crazy ideas which arise in St.Chad’s and so I thought ‘Why not?’ and said “yes, go for it”.  This was someone offering to do something fresh and inventive, outside the walls of the church, to initiate connections and bless our community.

By Sunday 11th Dec, over 600 had arrived, Angels - 1 (4).jpghours and hours of knitting and hundreds of conversations had happened.  We prayed that God would use the angels to bless people and very early on Tuesday morning we hung them on railings all around Romiley.angels-8

As the village woke up and set of for school and work, the place came alive.

The Surprise worked! – delight, joy, smiles and stories bursting everywhere.  The atmosphere in the school playground was transformed – reluctant schoolchildren (& parents) trudging to school in the dark, were running and laughing again.  Kindness broke forth, our lollipop lady found a child with no angel in tears and so gave her the one she had chosen for her tree.  Within minutes a grandfather ran off to find one in a yellow coat for the Lollipop lady.

But something else was going on – it felt more than just a happy little surprising occasion.

Something shifted.

There was a new found generosity of heart.
A celebration of what the Romiley community is about.

Commuters, walking in darkness, struggling with an early start, facing yet another draining day ahead, were lifted.  People who had been struggling with burdens, felt loved.

We provided some photos and video footage for BBC NorthWest, who put it online, their Facebook videos usually get c.20K views, by the weekend ours had been viewed more than half a million times!

But there’s another dimension to this story – which I want to share.

My confession:

A few years ago, I was excitedly preached about Angels, stories in the Bible and experiences of people I’ve met, of the vast, majestic, overwhelming heavenly beings.  In my talk, I threw in some comments, which were – let’s be honest – not entirely positive about little knitted angels. angels-4 In trying to make my point – I chose to stamp on something precious to others – and I’m not proud of it!  (The damage done when we preachers choose to trash talk something to emphasise something else, is for another blog, it’s destructive and endemic)

So what did God do? – He chose to take the very thing I had been cynical about & use them to do something really quite powerful and dramatic here in Romiley.

The church I lead, now becomes famous for being ‘the knitted angel church’…

I had some interesting conversations with God about this on my early morning dog walks last week!

God, in his love – took another opportunity to remind that building up, not pulling down is how we do things in his family.    But he didn’t just take the opportunity to humble me (he gets plenty of those) because when he has our attention, God makes the most of it.  When struggling with internal conflict between what we know is right & the tantrums of our feelings – He has a chance to speak.

angel-in-lightsSo with my full attention, God had another surprise.

As well as the outbursts of joy, and chatting and fun around Romiley.

As well as the grateful recognition that we seek to show God’s generosity.

Then the requests came in.  A flood of them.

Emails, Facebook messages to our church profile,  phonecalls, even people turning up on the church doorstep having driven to Romiley to find us.

Requests for these little knitted angels – to give to sick relatives and unsettled children.  Requests for these to bring hope and healing to those in distress.

angels-10At first we weren’t sure what to do about this – a knitted angel is cute – but it has no magical powers.

I had to wrestle with all sorts of religious thoughts,  along with my preach all those years ago slagging off little angels – I considered all potential negatives.

Was this superstition and folk religion?  Was dropping cute knitted angels in the nighttime too cowardly as a form of mission?  Was this a misrepresentation of the heavenly reality?

But then I remembered that we’d prayed for those who received these angels, we’d prayed that God would use them.  We’d taken something very simple, very natural – something sweet and lovely and prayed that God would use it – and now he was!

It was a wake up call for me.

People are hungry for God. – They are looking for him, searching for him, reaching out asking for his help.  We are surrounded by people longing for love and connection – and these angels were a sign that God’s people want to show kindness.

People are desperate for hope, for something playful and fun, wonder and surprise.  Finding a knitted angel, hanging on a railing early on a damp dark December morning – is a reminder that there is fun and playfulness in the world.

People are desperate for healing – for sickness to be overcome and they’re looking for the God who heals.

And there was such faith and expectation out there, that God could use these little tokens to bring healing and hope.  Amidst my religious reactions and our preoccupation  with a video going viral, we were discovered vast amounts of faith, outside the church.

So we started praying differently.  God used handkerchiefs and aprons in the book of Acts, to bring healing to those in need, so I got past my religious reactions and started asking him for that.  We’ve already heard of one lady’s daughter who had been in intensive care for a long time, making a dramatic recovery the day after her Mum took her an angel.  We’ve heard of insomniacs, sleeping peacefully.  I’m praying for many more, God loves these people and we long to see his kingdom touch their lives.

In many cases it seemed that there was more faith in God to heal outside the church, than within it.  And yet those inside the church have already received that love, that joy and that power from him.  We’ve already experienced connection, freedom and healing from God and  can share that.

So God took the little thing that we had to offer and used it to remind us that He has so much more.

angels-2I wasn’t totally wrong all those years ago – knitted angels are just nicely constructed arrangements of wool.

But this stopped being about the angels a long time ago.  Angels are only messengers who bring good news of great joy.  Whether they are 10ft tall, radiant in overwhelming light and carrying vast swords – or 5inches tall, made of scraps of wool with a bit of tinsel.  They have one job, to point people to Jesus.

God used this little tokens of love, to catch people’s attention, to express his love and to point people to Jesus.  He is the one who can heal, restore, refresh and bring hope.

How can we respond?

Early on Sunday morning, I sensed the Holy Spirit tell me to lay down the sermon I had written and instead preach on how we can make a positive, biblical response to the rapid movement of people displaced form Syria and Iraq through the brutality and evil violence destroying the place they have called home.

Having read the parable of the Good Samaritan, here’s a blog version.

  1. Wake up!

The scale.

The reality of this migration has been going on for months, the growing camps of refugees in Calais has been the summer’s news story and the hideous challenge faced by the global community by the violent aggression of militant groups in the middle East is an ongoing issue.  But the issue has captured our attention and the attention of the world’s media this week.  We need to wake up to this.

On the way back from church, my 11yr old son who had heard my sermon asked me some great questions, including how ‘big’ this thing is.  My reflection is that this is probably the largest scale historical event in my lifetime, alongside the collapse of communism and the invention of the internet, [Pushing the 2005 Ashes series into 4th place!]

Taking a step back and looking at people and land, rather than ethnicity and nationality,  this is the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War.  This will mix people from different cultural backgrounds to an unprecedented level.  We need to wake up to this change.

the bigger picture – 

The sermon I was due to give this morning was on Ephesians 1, landing on verse 10. God’s eternal plan to bring all things in heaven and on earth under the Lordship of Jesus.

I don’t know what your attitude or belief is with regard to end time prophesies and the direction of human history.   My reflection is that many of my generation in the church in the UK have disconnected the now of our experience from the direction of all history.  We’ve experienced too many bogus, outrageous, unfulfilled prophecies and predictions about the end of the world and what will happen and perhaps become cynical or disconnected.   The internet has meant that every President, Pope or Pop-Star has probably been denounced as the anti-Christ by someone and this whole subject feels overwhelmingly complicated, we feel allergic to talk of millennia, beasts and world systems.   We are both a rationalist generation and yet intuitively feel apocalyptic fatigue.  We tread carefully about pinning events in our time, with the bigger purposes of God, because we’ve seen others try that and then look very silly a few years later.

The danger of this cynicism is that our bigger view of where things are going, rarely informs our day-to-day life.  That makes it hard to reconcile the images in our newspapers or Facebook feeds now – with the bigger picture of all things, of eternal purposes.

Across Europe,  Muslims, fleeing hideous violence and destruction are finding a mixture of grace or defensiveness from historically Christian nations.  That will shape human history.

As this happens, churches – across Europe are showing love, welcome, service, compassion to Muslims.  Old wounds, perceptions and prejudices are being reinforced or broken down.

You probably won’t hear it on the news – but many are encountering Jesus through this. – Coming to know the living Saviour, when his followers show love, generosity and compassion.

2. Assess our attitudes. 

I have had to reflect a lot this week on my personal response to this.  I was asked to speak on Radio FiveLive on Thursday morning about the petition to the government and my immediate response was fear.  Complexity paralysis: the fear of saying the wrong thing, of expressing a view on a complicated matter and then being shot down for it.
Then I stepped back and looked again, as a disciple of Jesus this isn’t very complicated!  The Bible is clear that we are to show mercy and generosity to those who are vulnerable or poor, regardless of ethnic or religious labels.  Jesus beautifully and powerfully communicates that in the parable of the good Samaritan.  The complexity isn’t whether we should act, it’s how we prioritise our actions.

In the parable, the Priest is going to Jerusalem, perhaps for his once in a year opportunity to serve at the temple.  This was his big gig, the event he’d been preparing for and looking forward to.  If the victim by the road was dead and he touched him, he’d become unclean and be unable to fulfil his dreams and calling.  We are all busy, we lead hectic lives, we are at full capacity, Jesus points straight at that and challenges our priorities.

This summer, I heard someone teach on this passage (I think Karl Martin at NewWine), saying that the Levite was perhaps in eye-sight of the Priest and had seen him not act.  He feared that if he did, he’d be criticised for doing so.  He was paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong, he let that shout louder than his call to show compassion and generosity.

This situation forces us to ask how we can respond with compassion and sacrifice.  What would we be willing to give up to help? – how can we individually help? – What do we have available? What if 100 refugee families were located into our community, what could we do as a church? – what would we need to stop doing? We need to be ready to assess our attitudes and priorities, not just see this as a someone else’s problem.

3. Challenge bad attitudes.

It’s cheap and easy to judge & attack David Cameron and our government from afar with the limited knowledge we have of the complexities and range of opinions they’re processing.  Criticism doesn’t help those who are desperate to find home, food and shelter and a place of peace.  Write positively to your MP, expressing kingdom values, encourage them that as one of their constituents you care.  (include your home address so that they know you live in their catchment area)  I wrote to mine this week and immediately got a positive constructive response.  The more voices of compassion and generosity they hear, the louder they can amplify them in Westminster.  Negative judgement and criticism of our politicians only complicated and paralyses them in making the big decisions they need to make. They need our prayers and our views, rather than our judgement.

The real influence we can have is with our neighbours and workplaces.  What are people saying? – is there a defensive, selfish, critical attitude amongst those you spend your time with, which you can challenge?

We will each spend this week in different contexts, there will be different agendas or agreed values in your workplaces, groups of friends, clubs, local neighbourhood.

Be bold and courageous in being compassionate and positive. – challenge small minded selfishness and promote a movement of grace and generosity.

  • Don’t judge or slam people down – but ask provocative questions, draw out prejudice and lack of grace and help them to see it.
  • Complexity – there are lots of debates, arguments, criticism and ‘knowing best’ – that’s not kingdom – its destructive and obstructive. – If people are anxious about taking positive action, because they fear criticism or having motives or strategy challenged – then they’ll second guess and hold back.  Sadly, it seems for every positive statement about welcome, grace, generosity and compassion – someone will pipe up with a negative, a counter argument. – This isn’t the time to argue, it’s the time to love.  We have no right to an opinion, if we’re not willing to personally make some sacrifice to help the vulnerable.
  • Think about what you read and what perspective it gives.  Discern whether it is fuelling your prejudice or inspiring kingdom compassion.  There are newspapers which generally criticise, take a nationalistic attitude, stir or sensationalise a situation and feed thoughts that aren’t rooted in God’s love and grace. – Don’t read those papers and certainly don’t buy them!

4. What’s in your hand?

What have you got to give?

I am excited that there are multiple ways we can all do something.  Don’t be overwhelmed by choice, don’t compare, just act.

If you want to give money, then there are many great charities who will steward it wisely.  Personally we’re giving to Tearfund, because I love their approach of empowering and resourcing local churches in the places where there are most refugees.


There are many who are going to the refugee camps, taking essentials, warm clothes, shelter, bedding, food. For example CalAid – a new response charity – taking essential items from North West and volunteering to help. []

And then a great way to help children engage is Project Paddington – sending teddies to displaced children with messages of love and compassion.  This is a great thing to do as a family, or better still encourage your local school to get involved in. Find them on facebook, or email: to register interest.

Many new, compassionate initiatives are starting up and have been swamped, which is fantastic! Help them and be patient as they work tirelessly to find ways to respond fast and help those in need.

5. PRAY.

The one thing we can all do is to pray and this makes a huge difference in the heavenly realms.   Prayer is part of your relationship with God, express to Him what’s on your heart.  If a suggested structure helps you, here’s a little list.

  • Pray for those displaced. – Safety in travel and unity in the camps.  Food and essentials – particularly as weather turns.
  • Pray for children & the most vulnerable. – Major migration also creates dangers of human trafficking and exploitation. – Pray for protection.
  • Pray for government and those making decisions. – careful diplomacy and working together in Europe. – Wisdom, freedom from the fear of criticism (they’ll be attacked whatever they decide – but God put them in place of leadership, so ask Him to bless them)
  • Pray for churches & charities who are serving those displaced. – resources, unity, power off the Holy Spirit.
  • Continue to pray against the spiritual forces of violence which influence the Islamic fundamentalists in Syrian and Iraq.  Pray for God’s victory over the evil which is causing this.