I rarely go to the book club that I joined. I say “rarely” – I have been once. Sometimes it’s down to not buying or reading the book because I googled it and didn’t like the sound of it. Sometimes it’s down to buying and reading the book and not understanding what it’s about and choosing not to show my ignorance. Sometimes it’s about buying and reading and absolutely detesting the book and not wishing to poke a pin in someone else’s happiness bubble. I might go this time – the book was bought, read and, enjoyed? Bits of it.
The book is “Memory and Straw” by Angus Peter Campbell. It has been bought and read and thought about. If you don’t want the book spoiled for you, skip the next couple of paragraphs.
A man works in the robotics industry. There is a recognition that there’s an older generation that will one day need to be looked after. People-carers need to be trained and paid. Robots could do the job better. Rather than have blank faced constructions of plastic and metal the plan was to give them human faces – non-scary, relatable faces. What is it that makes a face a face? The man does his research into his own family history and most of the book is anecdotal, following through the generations. The man’s bosses take his research, make their robot faces and introduce them to the world. There is applause, naturally, but not from the man. He’s looking at the faces of robot faces of his grandma and grandpa. It’s them – but it’s not them. The faces are soulless. He hands in his resignation and leaves.
I rarely look at my face. Mostly, it’s because I can see it without my glasses. I have a mirror that has an ordinary lens on one side and a magnifying one on the other. It’s for putting on make-up which I rarely wear. I prefer the picture I have in my head which has none of the blemishes of real life. I think most of us live life that way – not always facing up to reality.
Somewhere in my thinking, though, is a notion that if you put the real face next to the imagined face I might prefer the real one. Only Sindy dolls have perfect complexions before kids get hold of a wax crayon and add “make-up”. My real face is the lived in one with the age lines and wrinkles – and somewhere in it all is a gentleness and kindness that shows.
I came across “the shield of patience” a week or two ago. It was in the writings of St Thomas a Kempis. Patience, he says, allows suffering, glad suffering, of sorrows and temptations, sickness and injuries. These things are not to be avoided, or even swiftly delivered from, but allowed to shape us. I am aware that for some people the shaping might be a negative rather than a positive – but that is because they are not allowing God to use the suffering to shape them. God gives us all that is necessary to weather the storms. He doesn’t want the enemy to chase us from the battlefield but to claim our victories there.
No one likes to suffer. Jesus stepped in with miracles to bring people out of their suffering. It’s in the next life that all tears are wiped away. I think it may not always be the best move to insist on the healing miracle, to drag people to have hands laid on them and rebuke the affliction. I’m not sure that God wants the pen that draws the lines on people’s faces, the life-lived lines, pulled away so quickly, before it has done its job. He knows the right time to lift the pen away.
God wants people with lived lives, not sheltered ones. We must allow pain and sorrow to shape the face we show to the world – the face that tells them we, as Christians, are not inoculated from life’s up and downs. We live in a real world and have to be real people with lived lives.
God uses all that happens to me to make me who I am, who He wants me to be, who He can use.
God can’t use Sindy’s face to show His compassion.