Saturday, August 26, 2006

Not at home

Jonathan Edwards made a resolution that he would live in such a way hat when he looked back on his life when he was old, he would have no regrets. There would not be a sense of wishing he had done something that he had the chance to do, but never did. I, sadly, do have regrets.

I regret not attending some of the weddings of my brothers and sisters. I was newly a Christian at the time of some of them and deeply disapproved of the chosen lifestyles and choices of husbands/wives. I was brash enough to think that I was right and they were wrong. I didn’t go to the weddings because…if you have seen the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the scene quite near the end where Catherine de Boer and her daughter keep away from the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth – well, that disapproving look says it all. That was me! I cut my nose off to spite my face and it didn’t change anything!

I would like to think that I am different now. I am less harsh and down-the-line, hopefully more generous. When a friend of ours invited us along to the Mormon Church to witness her baptism, Joe and I chose to go. The Mormon Church and I have a bitter history. While I was asking Jesus to be Lord of my life, my sister was becoming a member of the Mormon Church. At the time I visited her determined to “set her right” and push her onto right path. Things did not work out that well and we didn’t speak for a while afterwards! Looking back over the years, I still cannot see that her faith has enhanced her life – but that is another story!

I guess I must have had an invisible sign hovering over me – the body language speaking very clearly – “Don’t even attempt to witness to me!” No one approached, except in the most friendly and inoffensive manner. I know our friend was delighted to see us.

I have rarely felt so uncomfortable in a place or worship. Part of it was probably the baggage of attitude that I brought with me, but seriously, I never felt the presence of God. I don’t really know enough about Mormonism to pick holes in their theology. I just know that they have some very different views from mainstream Christians. The people were nice, but, for me, the Spirit of God wasn’t there. The reality of a life producing faith just wasn’t there. Not for me, anyway.

The service lasted about an hour. It was very serious and …I am trying not to say the word “dull” but that comes to mind. A small choir of men sang a wonderful hymn “The Lord is my Shepherd”. Maybe it is the worship leader in me but it wasn’t exuberant enough. Such wonderful words needed heart and soul and spirit. I wanted to say “Is He really your shepherd? If He is then why aren’t you exploding with joy?”

Part of the service included watching a DVD called “The Witnesses” – fifteen witnesses to the truth they had found in Mormonism. They thankfully stopped at number five. Ninety percent of what they were saying, I could go along with – but the ten percent of other stuff was not scriptural. Joe said afterwards that for him that kind of “church” is the most dangerous kind. There is so much truth that the error sneaks in. It is like getting someone to eat an unpleasant tasting tablet by sticking it in a banana! The banana is easy to digest, but you don’t notice the tablet. Tiny though the error might be, it infects the rest of the truth, twisting it to something it is not supposed to be. We are all susceptible to twisting the truth, but the Bible acts as a plumb-line, and the prompting of the Spirit keep us from error.

I felt really sad was that our friend had been unable to find her answers in our church. She had been a member of our church for a while many years ago. I felt sad that we had not managed to meet her needs – we failed to be the body that she needed. Actually, the problem might not lie with us. Just because you are being the right kind of body, does not mean that people wish to fit themselves into it.

Incidentally – to go back to places of worship where I have felt at home – amazingly enough – one such place was actually a Muslim mosque! Just a few miles away from the airport at Larnaca, in Cyprus, there is a small mosque. It is on the edge of a salt lake. It is surrounded by trees. Inside it is just one big empty space with carpets. I felt the presence of God there so strongly. It may have been just the silence and the peace of the place, but I felt close to God there.

Is he dead?

I think this is a genuis idea. It is in the Observer Food Monthly magazine. It is one of the winning entires of the Seeds of Change photography competition. Being a food producer, the photo had to have some connection with food.

It reminds me of the Brick Testament where a some has re-told stories of the bible through lego people. Maybe John Roberts, the winning photographer, should have a stab at doing Bbile stories with jelly babies.

Incidentally I really like jelly babies.

Where do people get these ideas?

I'll take the high road...

Joe and I have a very curious eccentricity, which so far we have not discovered anyone else shares! When we are away on holiday we take days off from one another! Think about it – throughout the normal working year we spend quite a bit of time apart. We don’t see each other during the day. Sometimes we don’t see each other in the evenings if I am away at music practice, or he is attending a union meeting. Suddenly we are in each other’s company for 24 hours! I defy any loving couple not to find that hard at least for a few days! We don’t have distractions like children – it is just Joe and I. So we devised a system to spend a day apart. It doesn’t always work! In Egypt it was not cultural for a woman to travel alone. In Saltsburg Joe found something really interesting to do on his day off and I gate-crashed! There are things that Joe loves to do like trailing across World War 1 battle sites that do nothing for me. There are things like shopping and visiting churches that do nothing for Joe. I am not saying that we do not attempt to share one another’s interests because we do, but days off are good ideas!

Not everything it life hoists the flag to the top of the pole for me. There are things that just don’t appeal. Trailing around museums does not appeal. I can do art galleries at a push.

I came across a really insightful chapter in one of the books in my bookcase the other week. The book, “God is Closer Than You Think” is by John Ortberg. The chapter is about spiritual pathways and begins with a quotation from C S Lewis, “Why else were individual created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love them each differently.”

John Ortberg recognises this and writes about pathways to God. He is talking about the different ways that people relate to God. We all desire to connect with God but we don’t all do it in the same way.

Some people make the connection through the mind – reading and analysing the Bible. They hear God best when they are learning. They delight in Greek or Hebrew words. They are thinkers or philosophers and love to engage in discussion.

Other people connect with God through relationships – the small group junkies. They are not people who are into solitude but like to be with people.

Still others find the connection through serving or helping others. They are motivated by the passage in Matthew – “when I was hungry – did you feed me…”

Ortbreg identifies a number of pathways – through worship, through being active in the political arena, through retreats and contemplation or through being outside and communing with nature. It is not for us to ignore any of the pathways to connecting with God, but some are easier than others for us.

I find myself to be naturally making connections with the mind. Reading and studying God’s word really does hoist the flag for me. I am not so much into Greek and Hebrew words – but God speaks to me through His word. It is not dull or lifeless to me, but bristling with revelation. Word bombs explode inside my head and there is always something new to see – another path to explore. That is not to say that I am dull to worship, or to seeing God in the nature around me – it is just I love the written word!

To some extent, reading the chapter was like someone opening a prison door – it is OK to study the Bible and get excited about it! It also explains why sometimes I find it hard to relate to some people who do not share my passion for words. What rocks my boat does not rock the boats of other people. I have a little bit of the political activist in me and I don’t always see in reflected in people around me. People are different. We say that we acknowledge and respect the uniqueness of people but then we push them into a mould to make them just like everyone else. We think that is “this” works for me, then it has to work for her. I can remember earnestly thrusting a friend into a bible study on the character of God to deepen her relationship with Him. Getting her to switch off the TV was an accomplishment – but maybe she was one the relational types that just needed someone to be a friend, to watch TV with her and chat.

What Ortberg does challenge me on is to take a walk along the pathways I least explore and allow God to connect with me. It would stretch me in a way that perhaps a Bible study would not.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Slug Trails

In the house my mother lived in before she moved into her sheltered housing flat was the end house on a terraced row. It had the only backyard that was not covered in concrete or paving slabs. There wasn’t any grass, just lots of rose bushes.

I suppose it is inevitable that with a proper garden you get beetles and spiders, but it was the slugs that did me in. If the slugs had stuck to the garden we could probably have co-existed without much fuss. Somehow or other the slugs found their way into the house. Every morning there were slug trails in erratic patterns around the carpet under the dining table. They were sticky, slimy and silvery and always there in the morning.

One evening, late in the year, the phone rang. I was in the kitchen at the time and walked through the living room to pick up the receiver. Just because the slug trails are there in the morning, does not mean that the slugs make them in the morning! This lesson I learned as I stepped onto a slug. Sad to say, I wasn’t wearing shoes at the time and the squashed slug oozed between my toes. I was hopping round the room, screaming down the phone to my sister, “Ooh! Ooh! Oh no! Arrgh! It is gross! Yuk! Yuk!” It was very unpleasant!

This morning brought back those unpleasant memories! There was a slug trail in the hall way! The slug had kindly kept its ramblings to near the back door. A silvery trail of slime and goo marked its path. We have had things done to the garden over the last few weeks. I traced the slug trail back to a bin that my husband had been using to collect bits of a fir tree in as he was hacking at the branches. We are taking down a number of the trees. The slug had hitched a ride and then began exploring!

Spotting the slug trail is an easy thing. It stands out. In the book of Genesis, the path that Abraham took through the land of Israel was also easy to spot. Everywhere that Abraham stopped, he built an altar. Sometimes he went back to places where he had been before and worshipped there.

In the New Testament, when John the Baptist was imprisoned, he wanted to know whether Jesus really was the man who would come after him. He sent his disciples to find out. The path that Jesus walked was clear. The lame walked, the dumb spoke, demons were cast out and people were raised from the dead. Jesus left behind him a clear trail of changed, or challenged, people.

It just makes me wonder what kind of a trail I am leaving for others to follow! Do I want people to walk in my path? Are the words that I speak much like the unpleasant slug that gets squashed between the toes? Or do I leave a trails that demonstrates my worship of God, and my care for the people He loves?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Surreal moments

There is a scene in the film Notting Hill where the characters have “surreal moments”. Yesterday was a bit surreal – it was totally out of the normal run of things. The day for the most part was normal – as normal as first day back at school can be normal. It was after school that things got surreal!

I was very tired and decided to lie down on the sofa and listen to a worship CD. I was drifting off rather nicely when the doorbell rang. A few thoughts went through my mind – had I left the lights on in the car and a neighbour was coming to tell me, was it a double glazing salesman, or someone trying to convince me to change my gas and electricity supplier.? I recognised the man immediately – it was the husband of a friend from Rugby – the friend that I had regularly wrote letters to one year when she was going through a tough time. It turned out that they had decided to take a driving holiday – a whistle stop tour of Scotland, popping in to surprise us along the way. (I could never be that casual and off the cuff!)

Words really fail to say just how delighted I was that they were visiting. It was like Christmas!

My friend and I go back a long way. She has always been an inspiration to me, but the last few years have been hard. Her relationship with God has not been a bed of roses. A great deal of what we had in common was our faith, and when she was going through difficult times, it wasn’t always easy. My enthusiasm - I guess at times I probably made her uncomfortable! When you just want to keep God at a safe distance you probably don’t want to be around someone burning with a passion!

Maybe it is because I am a writer I think that the solution to feeling down is to read something uplifting. The written word does it for me! “Read this and you will feel much better” is my philosophy. I thought that if she read some of the poems and short stories that I had written, it would re-ignite her passion, so I left her with two files of my work – volumes one and two! As it was she was stirred by some of the things she read! But she held onto volumes one and two for so long that I did think about replacing them – printing them off again and sticking them in a new file. Her visit yesterday reunited me with volumes one and two!

It was so wonderful to see her and her husband. I have been drunk only twice in my life. One of those times was round at their house one New Year sampling their collection of liqueurs. If you are going to get drunk, there is no safer place that among people you like and trust! I didn’t know these things had whisky in them – and I was sorely missing Joe!

It was surreal – sitting in a pub on the banks of Loch Ness with three of my most favourite people in the world. I felt specially blessed. It kind of out weighed all the not so good stuff of first day back at school!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mind reading

In the late nineteen eighties, I left my job to join an evangelistic outreach team working with a church in Inverness for a year. It was the right thing to do and the right place to be doing it. At the end of the year, it was back to the "real" world. I chose to remain in Inverness, and make the church there my family.

Trying to get a job afterwards proved most difficult. Teaching jobs were like gold mines. One plum job that had "Melanie" written all over it was advertsied. I applied, was interviewed, and not appointed. That was my first step on the downward spiral of unemployment.

What followed was eight months of rejection. Because of my qualifications, no one wanted me. I was overqualified to wait on tables, to clean floors, to file letters or any of the other jobs I had applied for. No one wanted me.

This downward spiral of unemployment was accompanied by a downward spiral into depression. Slowly but surely confidence in myself was being eroded. Every area of my life seemed to be affected. I felt everyone was looking at me and seeing failure written into everything I did. It was like being sucked into quicksand.

Perhaps someone looking on would not have noticed anything amiss. I did not appear on the surface to be worried or anxious. I didn’t withdraw myself from participating in church activities. I sang just as off-tune as ever, I prayed as fervently and shared insights at Bible studies. On the outside things seemed to be fine.

I would have to admit that there was a resentment building up that no one seemed to notice! I thought that if “these people” were really hearing from God, then they would know how miserable I was inside. If they were in touch with the divine, they would know. I don’t suppose that is a unique reaction to take, or that I am the only one who has ever travelled that path.

God’s reaction to that line of thinking was “Why don’t you just tell them how you feel?” Christians are not mind readers, and yet we expect them to be. There are occasions when God brings a word of knowledge to open up a situation, but when a person is quite capable of telling someone, He probably doesn’t see the need to do that. Eventually I did tell someone. My problems did not instantly lift, but because they were out in the open, the air was getting the wounds and healing was happening.

Since then I have always told people and told myself that if there is something bothering me, I should not go down the route of thinking “If they were really hearing from God…” I should not expect people to be mind-readers.

I think it must be a pride thing. It takes humility to admit that we are not the “more than conquerors” that Romans says we are. I also think there is a hurdle to climb over in the sense that you think that people are not going to understand. You see nothing in their lives that tells you that they have also been this way and they know how you feel. Too few people confess their weaknesses, so you get the impression that they don’t have any!

I am sorry to admit that I have been thinking that people ought to know how I feel without being humble enough to tell them that things are not wonderful. I don’t look around at my life and see holes everywhere, but there are areas where I am struggling and I don’t ask for help. I think sometimes that I inhabit a different planet and I don’t speak the same language as other people!

All this came to light at our ladies Bible study last night. I knew that I was on shaky ground when I found out we were studying Hannah. The whole issue of not being able to have children is guaranteed to throw a light on my vulnerabilities. I spent a lot of time in prayer trying to shore up the defences before I left – “Please, God, don’t let me bawl my eyes out.”

And I thought I was doing so well. I have no idea just what words turned the key and the floodgates opened – but I wept buckets! It was good that I was in an entirely supportive atmosphere, surrounded by friends that cared. I just wish that I had said something months ago – when the emotions were at a manageable level.

There are some people that would hold to the view that it is enough to talk through sensitive issues with God alone and they get sorted. I don’t believe that! I don’t believe either that you spread the message of your weaknesses to all and sundry – that could cause harm. It is important that someone knows the warts and all version of your life history.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Taking the rollercoaster ride

I have been thinking about my brother, Richard, recently. He is the youngest of my two brothers, though I suppose that somewhere in his forties now is hardly “young”. Joe and I have stayed with him when we have been down to visit the folks in Rugby, and his comment after spending an hour or two in Richard’s company, for the first time, was “He will either be a millionaire or totally bankrupt by the time he is forty.” I think he is swinging close to being bankrupt, but the millionaire part is waiting in the wings.

Richard has amazing self confidence. He left school when he was sixteen without any qualifications. He is very much a “hands on” kind of person. He will look at something like an extension to someone’s house, someone’s kitchen, or bathroom and go home and build it! He has no formal qualifications in architecture and yet his advice is sought out by big firms and he is asked to design shopping malls. He just talks confidence all the time. He may know absolutely nothing about something, read up on it for a couple of hours, and talk through it like he is an expert!

He invents things by adapting what someone else has made to suit his purposes. He applies for a patent on his invention and then the big companies who provided the shoulders to climb on take his to court and say that he has copied them – which to some extent he has.

He is a risk taker, and I think that is what I admire about him.

I don’t want to be self confident in quite the same way as Richard. I want to be God confident. Too often I play it really safe in the sense that I am very cautious. I am hesitant to plough all of my energy and time into something until I am 120% sure that it will succeed.

A couple of years ago I wrote regular letters to a friend of mine – I typed them, so there are copies of them on the hard disk. There is something like a dozen spanning an entire year – regular monthly updates of life in the Kerr household. They trace the beginnings of my involvement with and virtually every letter involves a debate about publishing a collection of poetry.

If I was my brother Richard, with all his confidence and risk taking – the book or books would be sitting on the bookshelf by now. He would have seen it in his mind’s eye, not even questioned whether they were “good enough”, and started contacting publishers!

Last night we were praying about the resurrection power of Jesus. Many of us have dead dreams that God wants to resurrect. As we were talking things through and praying, the reasoning bit of my mind kept up the mantra – “This is not about me – I am fulfilling all I have set out to do – there are no dead dreams for me to pursue.”

In a sense that is true. The dream of publishing a book of poetry is not dead. If this was a sci fi thing I would say it is suspended animation, or in stasis. Suspended animation is as good as dead in that there is not interaction with the world around.

It must be very hard being married to my brother – a real rollercoaster of a ride. He achieves things that other people just dream about doing. I want to be like that. I don’t want my confidence to be in me and in what I can do if I put my mind to it – but in God!

The mediocre has never been God’s plan for my life.