Keep safe. Be kind. Enjoy
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.
“Come to the River, all who are thirsty.” We Are The River! We are your refreshment, your restoration, your rest, your cleansing! Not… Nothing or Nobody Else! Just Us!
I stand on the river bed, a bed of pebbles and stones and dried wood. The plants of the river are long dead. I am not alone. As I look there are others, standing. What for?
I am waiting for The River to return. A river that once trickled, sometimes, flowed and very occasionally raged like white water. The River I had in mind dried up long ago. It refreshed, renewed, restored then, but has now dried up. It is as if a drought has come and stayed.
As I look in the cloudless sky with no sign of the rain I long for, I begin to see. Like a laser beam piercing my mind and my heart, I start to understand. The River was the wrong river. It was never going to stay, for it was made of man made things, things that pretended to be The River while not being the river – religious rules, regulations, expectations, demands; valid spiritual practices that become routine, duty, habit devoid of life, of water.
And then out of nowhere, large, cold drops of rain appear. Slowly and deliberately the rain increases into a deluge. And between my toes and around my feet, The River forms and flows. My tired feet and legs are suddenly shocked into refreshment and vigour.
And I realise that this is The River! The River! What is The River? Who is The River? It is YHWH! My God! Papa, Mama and Yeshua The Christ! The Mysterious three-in-one! They are The River! My River! My Source of all that is good and fresh and real!
At the grand old age of sixty, I have been launched into a landscape that I have never seen before, and rather than it being frightening, it is exhilarating. The opportunity for exploration and discovery and adventure has invigorated me in my journey of faith.
I have seen it in my own life, and more recently in the lives of others that straight lines and boxes end up becoming tightropes and cages that squeeze the life and hope out of far too many. As a child, I was brought up to believe certain things without question. My faith (if that is what it was) evolved into something rigid and inflexible, which then expressed itself in ways of relating with others that was just as rigid and inflexible. My faith then became a cage or a prison in which I was trapped. Which is okay, until something goes wrong, until the inevitable pain and darkness of life hits you so hard it floors you.
For the fearful, for those who find themselves without the courage to face their pain and darkness, straight lines and boxes become a comfort and a safe place. The danger is that you then accept the tightrope and the cage as life, as the best it can be; hope soon dissolves before your eyes. And you are left with a God who is also trapped in a cage – the cage of your rigid and inflexible beliefs and doctrines.
And it is only from the straight lines and boxes that the fearful then declare their beliefs as the only right ones. Which makes everybody else wrong. Which is where we get denominations, tribes, within “the church” and if you are not in a certain tribe, then you are wrong. And why so many Christ-followers have abandoned the tribes and find themselves homeless.
Today I find myself walking a path, less travelled than any I have been on before. The scenery is new to me, but I am discovering the presence of my God, in all sorts of places, places I had decided they couldn’t possible be. My tightropes and cages have gone… most of the time. And I am free to explore and live with the mystery that God has to be; free to think the unthinkable, to dare to ask questions, to explore and play. It is a great place to be.
For the record, many of my beliefs look the same. I have not abandoned the historical Christian faith. In fact, I would suggest that I am discovering the depth and riches of this faith in ways that were out of bounds to me before. But look beneath the lid, and peep in my conversations with my PAPA, and with the next one, and you might wonder. Go ahead wonder… Wonder and mystery are incredible things, tools to lead us to love, which is the only thing that remains…
How I got here is a very long story. It includes reading, music, movies, walking, talking with those who came to be so helpful and significant. It includes tears, many tears, and pain in the heart that took so long to fade. It has been a journey not travelled very often in broad daylight, but often in shadows and mist and sometimes in darkness so thick you could touch it. And (don’t panic!) it includes Brexit… just a little.
At my feet is a pile of rubble – bricks, stones, concrete, pieces of wood – that made up what I was led to believe was a rock solid, immovable, non-negotiable, inflexible set of beliefs. Doctrine, rules, regulations, responsibilities and expectations, built on the conviction that the interpretation of the Bible was the only logical one and, therefore, the right one, defended at all costs. As though the God of the Christian faith needs defending and sticking up for!
And there was no room for interpretation, for views, or more importantly, the uniqueness of each one’s story and journey. It is all about straight lines and boxes, cages and prisons. The God of religious inflexibility apparently can’t cope with uniqueness and diversity. Which is where Brexit comes in. I have seen, very sharply, that a refusal to move from some ideological position, in any sphere of life, is both naive and, potentially dangerous. The result, eventually, is chaos.
On reflection I was dying, drifting into a spiritual and emotional coma. Until The Dark Path, that moved into Plants Repotted and now into The Great Adventure. It has taken me into places of thought that I never expected to even consider; ideas and beliefs that once seemed outrageous but now have broken shackles and knocked down walls.
The God I now love so much more than I thought I could is the same God. What has changed is my view of the God I now call, sometimes, Papa and sometimes Mama. They are the God who is Love, who is only interested in relationship and interaction and co-operation and dialogue. They (Father, Son and Spirit) are The Ultimate Family, and all they are and do is for the purpose of growing family. To Love this God, to love myself, and then to love the next one is where this is taking me. I’m not much good at it, but I am learning and I am being changed by the greatest force in all of the universes – the ferocious, outrageous, endless substance of the love of my Papa.
Today I am more free than I was yesterday, and infinitely more free than I was twelve years when I was thrust into this journey into The Great Adventure. I am free to be known and loved, to know and to love; free to be myself without fear or anxiety; free to participate in The Divine Dance and play my part in The Ultimate Family.