Two years ago, mum passed away. And in her passing I discovered a gate that led, out of the garden in my heart, and into a wide panorama of beauty and life. I chose to open the gate and found myself exploring The Great Adventure.
For the first time in my life, I was finally free to think what I wanted, believe what I wanted and live how I wanted. And that, at sixty-one years old! Quickly it became a journey of discovery. For too long, and under the fear of eternal damnation, I was imprisoned in doctrines and beliefs that I was terrified of. I began to explore and question, read and talk over coffee. I soon became clear about what I no longer believed in, but struggled to be certain about what I did believe in. It is a scary place if you have been imprisoned all your life.
Slowly but surely I began to emerge from thick forests of uncertainty. Depression and anxiety came to stay for a while. Love and kindness, from family and friends, helped to make sure that their stay was short.
There have been two or three friends who have walked with me. My Band of Blokes is growing, the walks and the coffee and the conversation have become very real encouragers along the way. And there have been two or three authors, new to me, who have significantly helped me to rethink and reimagine my faith. And Brian Zahnd is one of those.
The timing of this book was perfect. He described what I had been through, given some of it names, and illuminated with force some of the conclusions I had come to. I loved the way he challenged certitude – our attempts to put God in a box and ensure he never leaves it.
But for me, the chapter “House of Love” created a finishing line to my explorations… for now. There are other books waiting to be read, and I am sure I will revisit the writings of Brian Zahnd again. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I don’t recall ever saying about a book – “This book is filling my heart with joy!” I did this time.
I have always absorbed Philip Yancey’s books. He has never been afraid to ask awkward questions of the church, or of God. The rebel in me kind of likes that.
This is subtitled, “A Memoir” and in his usual way, he shines a light on his own life, and the pain that has been endured by all of his family and many more.
What I didn’t expect was the book to become a mirror and a spotlight onto my own life. In so many ways, our stories are similar, though what he endured at the hands of Church and Bible College leaves my pain in the shadows. And it appears that the soul ties that exist between fundamentalism and Republicanism in the US are more obvious than they are here in the UK. Although… when I was growing up, it was almost insisted on, at least by my parents, that the only party a Christian should vote for is Conservative. Really?
As I read, and looked in the mirror, and allowed the spotlight to shine into the dark shadows of my own life, I saw, in a new way, that I am more free today than I was even a couple of years ago. And if only to ask questions and to allow the answers to send me on an inner journey of adventure and discovery. As you will see in the coming year, my reading material is varied and diverse. And before you blame somebody else, I requested these books for Christmas and Birthday, myself, and with purpose.
I would heartily recommend this book by Philip Yancey. It makes for painful reading, but the story of redemption and grace shines through, even in the darkest moments.
15.44. It was bitterly cold this morning when I ventured out for a walk. But the sun was out and the wind had dropped. The beach was crowded with runners – crazy people! But I was alone with my thoughts and with My Papa and that is always more than enough for me.
We talked about doing life together, about the importance of friendships, relationships, collaborating together. I honoured The Divine Dance, The Divine Romance, the fact that Papa, Mama and Aslan dance around me and sing over me. I found myself, yet again, drawn into the heart of The Mysterious and Glorious Three-in-One, the reality that is diminished by the stone cold, hard and dead doctrine of The Trinity. It felt like they loved all over me, kissing and licking me to a place where I was undone and wrecked.
And then I saw that which is obvious, that which is probably the most doctrinally correct I have been in ages. The blindingly obvious can only be seen by those who have eyes to see. For whatever reason, the reality of eternity has gone undetected and unnoticed by those that won’t see. And “no one is blinder than he who won’t see!”
I have always lived my life within the very restrictive confines of my life lived here on earth – my seventy-years or however many God deems I am worthy of. In practice, I have lived my life believing that my life ends the day I stop breathing. After that there is nothing, despite my holding to a Christian worldview.
And then I read “Cross Roads” by William P Young! My conversation with Papa, Mama and Aslan this morning, flowed out of that reading. Now I see! As much as I can! My life does not end when I leave this world. In fact, the few years I have lived and will live are just the introduction to eternity. And one thing is powerfully clear to me. Whatever reality is, disrobed of the robes and finery of the Christian theology, it is, intrinsically about LOVE. It is about friendship, relationship, collaboration; the most perfect and sublime intimacy. In the first place, this is an eternal reality, outside of time and space, an intimacy that has existed within the Godhead – Papa, Mama and Aslan and now shared with me. Yes! I am invited, for all of eternity to become a part of this Glorious Three-in-One and share in the love that exists between them. And time cannot contain such a power. It has to be an eternal thing. And this is what I was designed and created for. This is my reason for being, and will always be.
And the passing from this life, into the unspoken glory of eternity, will make this complete rather than partial. I am lost for words, because it is the most sublime thing. “Thank you, Papa.”
Meanwhile, in the here and now, this is designed to be my modus operandi. Life is about friendship, about collaboration, about LOVE. If it is less than this, it is nothing. Work, Church, family, recreation, parenting, spending money, wasting time – without the power of friendship, of loving The Next One, they mean nothing. They are a lot of noise, without substance.
So whatever The Great Adventure holds for me in the future, one element is not up for discussion and debate. LOVE conquers all. It has to. I can make plans, and do “ministry” – whatever that is – but if it is not relational, and if it is not driven and oozing with love, it is a complete and utter waste of time. A salutary lesson. A defining encounter with My Great Papa this morning. “Thank you.”
Winter as a child was fun! Living on a farm had advantages, we would often get snowed in for days at a time, which meant no school.
Winter as an adult is not quite so much fun. Living on the south coast we hardly get any snow and when we do it is invariably gone within twenty-four hours.
I don’t mind the cold, but I do mind the bare trees, the decomposing leaves, the rain.
Until this year. It is as if the whole year has been winter. A cancer scare, mum passing away, saying goodbye to our last foster placement in difficult circumstances, writing the car off. Depression and now, this week, shingles! And all that in a year when a deadly virus has visited every nation, and wreaked havoc in our communities and our economies. Hours alone, no hugs – not even with our children, rising anxieties about the virus, about the financial fallout, wondering how long it will be. Surely a whole year of winter, the winter of the soul? I wasn’t sure I liked winter at all. Until recently.
Winter – a time of quiet, of hibernation, of bareness. Everything hidden. And therein lies the secret. In nature, everything seems to die, but in reality everything is growing where it can’t be seen, putting roots down deeper, getting ready for the emergence of spring, and the new life that erupts to our senses. In the winter of the soul, the same is true.
Two prolonged lockdowns have been, for me, a time of quiet, of hibernation, of bareness. Everything has been hidden. Much has died – the pain of loss, of failure and disappointment; the legacy of rigid, stiff religious beliefs that were drilled into me as a child. Now gone. The blindness that refuses to see the wonder of the universe and the work of My Great Papa in ALL things. Gone. My stubborn hanging on to forms of lifestyle, relationships, church, etc. Vanishing before my eyes.
And emotional and psychological roots pushing deeper into the richness of My God, who knows me as I am and still loves me, as I am and not as I should be, because I will never be as I should be. When the spring of the soul appears, slowly, imperceptibly, new life will appear, enriched by the soil that my roots have grabbed hold of. And my nakedness will be covered by vibrant leaves and blossom and flowers will brighten the day, and fruit will emerge to satisfy the hungry heart. New life – new lifestyle, new beliefs, new eyes to see the beauty and glory of My Great Papa in all things. And maybe new church – shaped and formed by the relentless, outrageous waters of The Love that ebb and flow through the very fibre of the universe.
The “normal” that follows winter is never the same two years in a row. “Normal” is fresh and vibrant and untouched. Because there is no such thing as normal in this life, not anymore. Especially after 2020, The Year of the Pandemic. That has, hopefully, changed us – people, communities and nations – forever, and for the better.
Nestled deep in the British countryside is The Repair Shop, where a team of Britain’s most skilled and caring craftspeople rescue and resurrect items their owners thought were beyond saving. Together they transform priceless pieces of family history and bring loved, but broken treasures, and the memories they hold back to life. [Taken from the show’s website.]
There is a plethora of UK television programmes from a genre that has to do with antiques, usually owned by the public, who have no idea of the value that the pieces hold, except in sentimental value. When it was first launched on BBC1, late afternoon, I sighed. “Not another programme for old people! Really?” I chose to ignore the advancing years of my own life; I may not be old, but I am now sixty-one, and the aches and pain of that age remind me often that I am getting old, although I have no intention of behaving old… except for the frequent nap in the afternoon. It is necessary, combating my insomnia, caused by too many babies who didn’t like sleep. I digress.
I quickly got hooked, until today it is one of my favourite things on TV, even though it leaves me in tears far too often.
The Repair Shop reminds me of My Great Papa, the God of the Christian faith, who is often pictured as a potter, crafting pottery into something beautiful. The intention to detail as the master craftsmen repair items that I would probably have dumped; the joy they clearly get in working with such care to restore items back to something very close to their original glory; the patience it requires – nobody ever gives up, loses their cool or shows an ounce of frustration. And the pleasure shown by the craftsmen when the “customer” returns for their beloved old thing. The blanket is removed and the look on the owners face is always a picture. And the other craftsmen watch from their benches and join in the pleasure and joy, as though they have been part of the restoration – could that be a glimpse into the mystery that we call The Trinity, but have no idea what that means?
But The Repair Shop also shows what “church” should be and should look like. The world is full of broken people – sometimes simply from the wear and tear of life, but sadly often the result of neglect and abuse – people who need to be repaired and restored. If My Great Papa is the Master Craftsman, then surely church, whatever that looks like and is or isn’t, should be, at times, a repair shop? Sadly, for too many, and I am one, the church has become the place where much of the damage that we carry is inflicted, rather than where the damage is repaired.
The programme shows a group of people, all experts in their own field, but novices when it comes to what might be required at any time. They love their work – you can see the sheer pleasure they get doing the repair and the utter joy when the work is completed. Tired church has stopped enjoying those moments, probably we are no longer artisans in the role we play. And for too long, we have been fed the lie that pleasure and joy are emotions that Christians should not feel.
It is not unusual for one of the team to request the help of another to complete a job. The one drops everything to help the other, knowing that the one requesting will be the one who gets the credit. Oh, for church to be a community where there is no competition! And when the joy of unveiling the finished work erupts, the other craftsmen stop work at the bench to enjoy the moment. Church should always enjoy the success and completion of another.
And ultimately, “church” should be a place, a community, a family where the broken lives of both church and world can be repaired and restored, often to a greater glory and beauty than they had before. And while we celebrate their healing, My Great Papa smiles and sometimes chuckles at the great thing that has just been achieved.
I suspect there are conversations around the world, in churches of all shapes and sizes, about what church is going to be and look like, post-COVID19 and the lockdown. I don’t have answers, except to express the hope that church will become family, community – a place and a people where the broken and exhausted and lost can feel safe and loved; a place where somebody will draw alongside another, take their hand, and walk at least part of their journey of faith with them; a place where people, who are healed and restored, but still carry the scars, can administer the healing love of My Great Papa; an environment where the achievements and successes can be celebrated with others rather than competed against. And I could go on, but I suspect you get the drift.
The Repair Shop – a veiled image of heaven on earth? I hope so.
One step, two steps… climb higher and higher. Sometimes it is easier to look down at your feet. Sometimes it is easier to focus on each individual step. You can’t see the top or where you’re going. But you know you will get there eventually. Sometimes one foot in front of the other is all we need to get to the place we are heading.
I don’t like to complicate the climb. I also don’t like to diminish what it takes.
I believe courage is always growing in the belly of every human. We don’t always listen to it; we often romanticise it. Courage looks like one step, two steps… it looks like consistency and choice. It looks like breathing in and breathing out. And then it looks like the wind in your face and the vista in the reflection of your eyes. All of a sudden it feels like, I did it and I can do it again. You climb down and start over.
Sit down and recognise where you are in a “climb.” Breathe in the beauty of your courage. Let the delight of the Lord fill your lungs. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength and teach you how to breathe deeply and take simple steps.
I think it was the summer of 2010. We had gone to see our friend, Steve, in Norway. And bless him, he endured the drive and the climb of Preikestolen… again – it is kind of compulsory for all visitors!
The first hundred metres left me breathless, and thinking, “I am never going to make it to the top.” And my thoughts were mingled with my fear of heights – even a step ladder raised my anxiety levels.
The climb was quite fun – choosing your path, just a few steps ahead; turning a corner, reaching “the top,” only to discover there was another corner, another climb to conquer.
After a couple of hours, we reached the top. Well, almost. Between me and the ledge, there was a ridge. Wide enough for one foot at a time, with a drop onto a larger ledge of about 5 metres. I froze. I was so close to the top with all of the glory of the views and yet here was an obstacle too frightening to tackle.
I have known Steve for so many years and he knows me and my struggles. His response was brutal. “Okay, you stay here, and Teresa and I will go on.” I wrestled for hours; well, minutes, even seconds, but it felt like hours. “Let’s do it.” I stood for another few hours; well, minutes even seconds, figuring out the best way to do this, what foot to put in front of the other. And went for it. And made it. And then realised that I would have to do it all over again on the way back.
The view was stunning. Teresa leaned right over the edge; that was a step too far for me, but still the vista that attacked my eyes and my senses was stunning.
The climb down seemed quicker, but was increasingly painful. On the way down, we bumped into an elderly couple from Japan. They looked as if they were at least 80 years old, and they were going for it. Just as stunning as the view! The last few hundred metres into the car park were excruciating. Poor Teresa was in tears, so painful were the knees. The drive back to Steve’s was a couple of hours. Getting out of the car was painful; having a shower was painful; sitting down to eat was painful; getting into bed was painful; sleeping was painful. It all hurt like crazy!
I have never forgotten that day. The level of my courage to overcome my fear shocked me. I would like to say that my fear of heights was conquered, once-and-for-all, but that was not the case. It is always a choice, to grab hold of the courage within, and face the fear. I learnt a very valuable lesson that day.
My personal observation would be that anxiety, fear, worry, even panic are quite common in our society today. As I write, in the midst of the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020, fear is everywhere – from the way people avoid getting too close, to the way the media portrays the crisis in the health service, to the threat of Armageddon from some within the church, to the absurdity of conspiracy theories.
At the start of the year, I had a health scare. A stubborn sore throat caused the GP to fast-track me to the hospital to see a consultant. “Just a precaution” mutates into “Cancer!” Before I had even been to the hospital, Teresa and I had one of those “worst case scenario” conversations; in the car, so we didn’t have to look each other in the eye. It was probably the most profound and defining conversations I have been part of. The punch line went something like this:
“If the worst happens and it is cancer and it gets you, I will be okay. I have the family, our church family, and I have God. And for you, you get to go home to be with the one person you love more than anyone or anything else! Your Heavenly Papa!”
I cried that day, and I cry as I write. And Teresa is right. Therefore, what do I have to fear? The worst case scenario is an illusion, an oasis of fear and dread. The apostle Paul said this: “For me to live is Christ; to die is gain.” And he is right. In the language of life coaches it is a genuine win-win situation
I saw the cold, inflexible dryness of correct doctrine… now I see a God who will not be restricted by what I believe. I cannot believe that I settled for cold and dry for so long, when the warm rivers of relentless love have always been there.
I saw the barrenness of religious duty and habits… now I see the idea of intimate relationship breaking out. My daily walk in The Secret Place has brought to life the garden of my heart, a place where my Papa and I can share hearts, dreams and visions. And I see the crazy world that we find ourselves in today as a call for the church to hibernate and rediscover The Secret Place.
I saw the edges of the broken glass of division, intolerance, hatred, bigotry, manifest in the church over centuries… now I see the incredible gentleness, love and joy of the kindness of my God being manifest, not only in his family, but in our nation trapped and imprisoned by the lockdown of Coronavirus.
I have seen over the years, in me and others, a harshness and unkindness that inflicts wounds and leaves scars… in the last few days, I have seen the kindness of a nation, honouring the NHS staff for all they are doing, the quiet “thank you” to nurses, bin men, supermarket staff, and so many other things.
I have seen and felt in the last few days the pain and hurt that we can inflict on each other… Today I see and feel the unbelievable healing of so many, who love and support when others are hurting.
“No one, no one is blinder, than he who will not see.” (U2)
I can see clearly today, where before I would have fumbled around in the dark. And it is not so hard for me to see what my Papa is doing as the world goes into lockdown. I can see a church pushed into The Secret Place, to rediscover what it means to be loved and then to love. I can see an outpouring of kindness, bubbling up to become, a torrent of love and gentleness and compassion… a church and a nation forever changed.
I am a son, a husband, a father, a friend. I am, a recently retired, local authority foster carer, a member of a crazy, creative, frustration and joyous “church” family. I am a pilgrim, a traveller, an explorer, an avid reader and novice writer.
And I am wounded and scarred, broken and damaged. And yet healed and loved beyond recognition. On a good day, I am Papa’s Little Boy and Papa to “the next one.”
On a bad day… I am self-righteous, self-absorbed, religious, judgmental, critical, negative, determined to be right and let you know that I am right, at all costs. On these days, my scars have been prodded and poked enough for them to hurt all over again. And when I hurt… here comes another bad day.
Why am I writing?
I have always dreamed of writing. So, when somebody prays that past dreams be fulfilled, including writing, and then somebody comments on my writing skills, it felt like a nudge, a heavenly elbow in the ribs.
I am certainly not trying to persuade, convince, convict or put right. I have had more than enough of that in my life, both as a giver and a receiver. Neither am I claiming some superior revelation and experience; it is my journey and my story, not yours.
I do want to explore and discover, provoke and stimulate, encourage and support… fellow travellers and storytellers. I am not looking to force our paths together, but if we should bump into each other? Well, let’s walk and explore together for a while and see where it takes us.