Friday, January 08, 2010

A personal view of the recently departed decade

I read a friend’s blog where she listed her personal decade – ‘what the noughties meant for me’, and it got me thinking. Things have been very different at different times for me in the decade that has just gone. I am definitely a very different person. So, it’s interesting to look back and see what has shaped me. Here’s a few of them.

Minimum Wage Hell (2001-2003)
Immediately after uni I set up a business with my wife Cathy, but way back in 2001 I got my first job where I worked for someone else: at UCI Cinemas. As a stopgap job it lasted longer than I expected. It was frustrating and boring, but occasionally brilliant. I learned first-hand that a far higher percentage of the general public are complete idiots than you would have thought. I made some great friends there, collected a fund of amusing stories, and did my final shift two years to the day I joined. UCI is now an Odeon, so this part of my life can never be repeated, really. (Which I’m not sad about.)

Cardiff Vineyard (2003-2006)
Although my Vineyard experience slowly morphed into more painful memories, I still remember the excitement of being in a small but vibrant ‘faith community’. Again, friends I made there have stuck with me. The generosity shown by some people still challenges me in what I do with life. And one Cardiff Vineyard phrase that has been hugely influential on my subsequent faith walk is ‘Let your heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God’. And of course, if I hadn’t been going to Vineyard I would probably never have replied for my current job…

Current Job (2003-2010 and maybe beyond)
I’ve made it a policy to never mention the current place I work by name on my blog, because sometimes I talk about it in less than flattering terms. I work for a large Christian charity and if you think that means it’s all fun and game sand spiritual blessing, then just you try it!

But genuinely, there have been times here when I have felt in the right place at the right time, and known that I was doing something that was more than a job. Other times I’ve nearly gone ‘loco’ and there have been three occasions when I’ve almost walked out and quit.

But doing what I do has opened up a whole ton of opportunities. I have progressed as a writer and earned recognition and payment for my x-trem skillz outside of work too. Which is useful, because working for a charity doesn’t mean I’m earning top-dollar, if you get my drift.

Freelance Theology (2004-2010 and getting bigger with every passing year)
This is my side-project that I’d been thinking about for a couple of years and finally got started in 2004 with the help of a Vineyard friend as a Typepad blog. Now a fully-fledged site, it has really taken off in the past year with radio interviews and stuff. It seems the more time I give to it, the more attention it gets. A bit like most things really.

California (2004)
Our road trip round Southern California remains one of the highlights of mine and Cathy’s life together. The star-strewn skies of Death Valley reawakened a spirituality in me that I hadn’t even realised had atrophied. I learned so much about myself in just two days in the desert – particularly that when it comes down to it I like being hundreds of miles away from other human beings – that I would class it as one of my favourite spots on Earth.

Depression (2005)
I’ve always been of a melancholic bent, but in 2005 I got into a pretty bad spiral of negative thoughts that culminated in suicidal thoughts. It’s hard to describe depression without sounding melodramatic, but it’s a horrible cycle of thinking and you just can’t get it out of your head. Fortunately, I had a very good doctor, very good friends, supportive family. And Prozac.

Glenwood (2006-2010 and pretty-much-definitely beyond)
My downswing into depression coincided with problems in Cardiff Vineyard that eventually led to the church ceasing to exist in 2006. At about the same time Brian McLaren did a day conference at Glenwood Church so I went along to hear him speak. He was awesome, and I encouraged Cathy and friends Ian and Viv to come along and hear him at the Sunday service.

They did and we all liked the service, so we decided to try a ‘normal Sunday’ and went the next week. However, the next week was the end of ’Holiday Club’ and was themed on an ‘Oscars night’. We enjoyed the service though and decided to come back and try a ‘normal Sunday’. But the next Sunday was something else again, so we decided to come back and try a… well you get the idea.

Eventually we realised (after about six Sundays) that ‘normal’ isn’t something that Glenwood does very often. But by then we’d been recruited by a friend to a new ‘life group’ and we were getting settled in. So we stayed. In Autumn 2007 I started helping out with the youth (who I now refer to as ‘my’ youth) and I don’t think I could leave now.

Significant Loss (2002, 2006, 2009)
We have faced some significant bereavements in the noughties. Back in 2002 Cathy’s Dad died as a result of an infection he picked up in Torbay Hospital. The subsequent inquest, as hospital staff covered their backs and tried to shirk responsibility, was extremely upsetting. I wouldn’t wish having to attend an inquest on anyone.

In 2006, Cathy’s Granny P (her mum’s mum) died. This time it was less of a shock but still very hard. I’d always had a good relationship with her and still miss her. Then last year my Granddad died after being incapacitated by a stroke for the best part of a year. I still can’t adequately explain how much that loss has affected me, because I simply don’t know. Occasionally I am ambushed by a memory or an overheard conversation and I’m reminded of him and I feel a weight on my heart.

Utah (2008)
My final staging point for the decade is in the summer of 2008, although, of course, plenty of things happened after it. But Utah marks a significant point for me because a) it was another amazing road trip, and b) I came off Prozac. I have been drug-free now for a year and a half, and despite last year’s bereavement, and some incredible stress at work and two winters, I have not gone mad or returned to the suicide-contemplating depressed state.

I think it was in Moab, driving next to the Green River down the Potash Road to look at ancient rock carvings that I suddenly realised I could see sunlight properly and joyfully for the first time in years. The serotonin-inhibiting drugs were washing out of my system, and the world was alive in colour and light. That memory is one of several from that trip that are etched on my brain. Utah has become my happy place because it’s there that I was able to experience happiness again unaided.

So that’s it for the noughties. Roll on 2020.


  1. Really enjoyed your summary Jon, thanks for sharing :)

  2. Yeah - a good read. Thanks Jon.

  3. Anonymous29/1/10 08:04

    a good read Jon... thanks for posting this!