I have had many conversations like this.
Someone was searching for spirituality, something, anything. They also really liked music.
They met someone who had faith. They lent them some Christian music to inspire and help them.
‘I was hoping it would help- but it was really, really bad.’ They said.
The thing is, the music that they were lent was really popular amongst Christian audiences-most likely people would talk how it had inspired them. There is nothing wrong with that- it is good.
However, I remember that quote just after the war by William Temple: ‘The church is the only society that exists for the benefit of it’s non-members’. Surely there is something wrong with music that only inspires and uplifts those who are already ‘in’?
That is a direct quote from The King James Bible. It is in old language, but I like the poetry.
It is part of a Psalm- Psalm 77- that I was reading this week. I like the raw honesty: it was never a memory verse when I was a young Christian- most of those were reassuring, sometimes ecstatic.
Reassurance, ecstasy even is good in faith. The problem is when it is considered to be the sole measure of a ‘good’ faith: when bad stuff happens and things don’t feel that they are connecting you quickly find you have no language to articulate it. ‘I feel like this; I can’t be a good Christian.’ There are churches/Revs/Christians and songs that would also struggle with this Psalm writer: he/she ‘needs’ healing- there is something wrong with them.
That’s why I like the Psalms so much- they are more honest than many Christians. Whilst this Psalm has words of reassurance, they are there against a background of feeling nothing: ‘Will the Lord absent himself forever.’
‘My heart is vexed, I will complain.’ I like that.
The last few years have been an amazing journey- I have learned more and more to listen (I wouldn’t say I am good at it) and disregard the old formulations of ‘I have to take authority over that person/situation/church’, ‘of course, they are a…’ or even ‘If they are this, just do this and it will solve it’. Shockingly, I have heard phrases akin to that from some experienced Revs, but that is another story…
Here is a story from Anthony De Mello that helps me see differently:-
A man got into a bus and found himself sitting next to a youngster who was obviously a hippie. He was wearing only one shoe. “You’ve evidently lost a shoe, son.”
“No, man,” came the reply. “I found one.”
It is evident to me; that does not mean it is true.
I was working late one night as an unpaid teaching assistant ( I am married to a teacher…). To relieve the monotony, I was listening to some favourite artists on YouTube.
After a while, I noted that one of the suggested next videos was by a popular Christian singer. I thought I would try and tackle my bias against ‘Christian rock’ and I listened to it. Whilst I couldn’t knock the musicianship, devotion or desire to worship (even though it was not my style), the experience lowered my mood. I wonder: how could someone listen to that repeatedly: to my ears, it seemed musically derivative, bland and with lyrics that seemed clichéd.
I began to search for songs that reflected lament, were outside the world of ‘Christian rock’ yet spoke about faith. Someone reminded me of a song I have not listened to for ages: ‘Full force gale’ by Van Morrison and I remembered a version by Elvis Costello that I used to use in church.
And- to paraphrase Van Morrison, the healing began…
Maybe the more we take to social media, the greater the risk we have of being disconnected with each other. I don’t know, but you can only know, really know a small number of people well whom you trust with your whole story- not just the exaggerated shiny bits.
I’m not preaching- I use, sometimes overuse social media. A few years back I remember a quote that went something like ‘When we talk about our successes we become competitors, when we share our weaknesses we become brothers/sisters’. I can’t find the source, but this one comes close:-
“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” (Jean Vanier)
I do like reading people’s good news, family joys etc- it is a way of keeping in touch. After a while, if all I see on a feed is the ‘amazing’ things you have done (and the subtle, and sometimes none too subtle, undertones of how comfortable you and yours are), I generally stop reading. If you salt it with even the occasional meme that shows deeper thought or nuance I can take it.
Now let me tell you about my new car, my privately educated kids and my holiday abroad…
We all do it to a greater or lesser extent: ‘Facebragging’= exaggerating your achievements or lifestyle to give a better version of your life than reality. See also ‘nauseating’.
Last week the GCSE results came out. I liked reading the stories of those who had done well, but then another friend posted the story of her daughter (my godson’s sister) who got an ‘F’ at GCSE psychology. The post was poignant, as I remember her daughter doing really well at GCSEs the first time. She went on to start A levels and half way through was hit by a car.
For weeks her life was in the balance- I remembered the anguished prayers and despair- but she eventually began to recover. The medical profession initially gave her little chance of much quality of life, but gradually and slowly she improved, attending college and eventually taking that GCSE.
Her mum wrote this:-
‘There was a time when this would have been a great disaster but this as a pass and not a U represents the courage, determination and commitment of a wonderfully strong young woman in the face of tremendous adversity. Those with disabled children/young people /adults will share with me the low feeling at this time of year when every faceboook status is celebrating academic success. I was one of those parents until September 2010 when I was forced to view the world through different eyes’.
I wanted to say ‘Well done Grace’: this is a terrific achievement.
I guess I also wanted to say don’t use social media just to share your successes or your fabulously together life- be real…
Preaching was my life: I preached regularly for nearly 23 years and now I am ‘resting’. I do not know how long that rest will be.
I recently got a really good free magazine about preaching and began to read it: I was impressed and moved by some of the articles- I think this may have been the first stirrings to come back.
Then I read an article about how a particular person prepared to preach & he included this phrase:-
‘I don’t really bother with the more critical and liberal commentaries. I am there to exegete the word of God, not poison it.’
I do have a point of view: I am not ‘anything goes’: but I think I have learned that if God speaks, He can speak through anyone- even those I disagree with. There was a time when I would have seen the arrogance of this correspondent and want to redeem it: ‘we are not all like that’, now my most presenting thought was ‘stuff this for a game of soldiers: I’m out of this.’
I am sure that the call will return…when it does and I am tempted to high flown rhetoric, I need to learn humbleness; lest I snuff out someone else’s flickering faith with arrogance…
It is a cliche, but the ground was idyllic: a herd of cows at the end of the ground, views stretching into the distance of fiends and wooded hills and the whole lit initially by late, soft summer sun.
The team stretched from two players who were 11 whose world was opening up and who were slightly over awed to be part of an adult world, to someone who was approaching 70 and somehow kept going; the backbone of the team. In between were a mix of eager teens and those who had been doing this for years. The pitch was slow and soft with occasional viscous bounce. None of the regulars on either side looked like they ever darkened the door of a gym.
The pace of the game was leisurely, although competitive; cricket seems to enter an alternative conception of time.
Most attempts at fielding-some good, some distinctly ‘village’ – were applauded by the captain and senior players. The pavilion was on the basic side of ramshackle and the cricket tea was starchy and full of carbohydrates.
Then there was talk from old sages about how it would rain heavily- I didn’t believe it; it was so hot- so heavily that if 10 minutes of heavy rain got on the pitch, the match would be abandoned.
It rained- heavily- and the pitch was waterlogged after 10 minutes. The game was called off with Hutton Rudby 2nd XI in a very good position. No one really minded.
I do so love it when the village 2nd XI is so short that I get an occasional game…
I played cricket yesterday. When the sun came out- before the thunder and the torrential rain- the setting was majestic: soft late summer light across the hills, the sound of birds, a herd of cows at long on and a ramshackle pavilion. I thought of trying to photograph it, but that would have just spoiled it.
I guess I was thinking of this poem: it is a Wendell Berry weekend:-
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
I unearthed this on holiday.
I wanted to title it ‘where I am now and what I am learning’, but it already has a title ‘No going back’ and it is by the incomparable Wendell Berry:-
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over the grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.