I’ve been reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Its largely about the idea that our lives are stories, part of the Great Story written by God. Reading Miller often does great things in my soul and this one has not been a disappointment. In recent chapters he has been talking about our responsibility to engage with life and make our stories memorable and worthwhile and full of God encounters.
I guess this has struck a chord with me because I feel like other stuff I’ve been reading and thinking about is all playing into this idea, but also because I’m on the cusp of fairly major change in my life story. I’ve been raising financial support to go work for a church in France since March-ish and today is a deadline date where the mission council will decide if I have enough support in place to go at the end of October.
It has been a long and at times painful journey. Its a lot of money and I’m raising in a fairly rough time in global economy and if there’s one thing I struggle to talk about productively, its finance.
This afternoon brings another blow. Yesterday due to counting miscommunications, my total shot up by 5% making it look like I’d surely be given the go ahead. This afternoon another discrepancy was discovered but this time not in my favour, leaving me with 1.5% less than I thought I had before it shot up yesterday.
Buoyed by much tea and binge-proportions of fruit cake (seriously – it was the best option in the house! But it is damn fine fruit cake.), I’m trying to think of this occurrence as a great twist in the tale of the story being written here. Every story has a great moment of disappointment and tension where it looks like it might not turn out okay in the end. I mean, can you imagine how great an anecdote it’ll be when I tell the story in the future? “It all looked like disaster might strike, but suddenly God turned up…”
I have never lived away from the sea. I grew up just north of Belfast which meant that – whilst Belfast Lough isn’t exactly open ocean – I usually saw the sea at least once a week even if I wasn’t a real coastliner. I went to University and lived in a seaside town, my year out was in Marseille on the south coast of France where the sea comes right up to the city’s main thoroughfare and now I live back up the north coast just a short drive from the sea.
But I’m soon to move away… I’m exchanging the sea for a river and lots of castles. I know it’ll be lovely – its a great city and there are some great people there and I’m looking forward to it for sure, but I wonder if I’ll get claustrophobic? Out walking today (easy done when you work 3 hours a day 🙂 ) I was glorying in the joys of seaside living… wouldn’t you???
I often say/think too much about old-time Northern Irish Christians that isn’t all that nice. But tonight I repented.
Those of you from the North who’ve had any kind of long-time church upbringing will be familiar with the “prayer voice” – it is of the same ilk of the “sermon voice” and the “reading-the-bible voice” of which you may also be familiar. The tone of the voice is deep, the timbre tremulous, the speed carefully managed, the vocabulary often familiarly extended into extra syllables : “And we pra-ay dear Go-wod that thou’lt buh-less thy childeren that art covered with the buh-lood of the Lo-word Jee-sus Cuh-rist…”
If you’re familiar, you’ll be forgiven for a roll of the eyes or a chuckle. I certainly had to hide a smirk when I first heard it at a prayer meeting tonight.
But you know what? When this kind of voice is not accompanied by anger or criticism or inverted pride, but rather by humility and kindness and a depth of faith that has been steeping in years and Scripture, it is the most humbling, encouraging and beautiful thing ever.
I’m not sure anyone my age (or with my accent) knows how to pray like that.
I feel strength and passion within me that don’t fit with the ‘nice girl’ image that seems most acceptable to the world.
I fear stepping out as me for two main reasons.
One : My strength and passion demand a confidence and courage that would undoubtedly be intimidating to most men, thus lowering my chances even further of being fallen in love with and married. The ridiculous thing about this is that I do not want a husband who would want me to be less than myself or what I am called to be. I long to want that for a husband and for a husband who longs for that for me. So to think of being a shadow of myself just so that I could marry someone is preposterous.
Two : I still fear that my strength and passion are nothing special. That really all I have is this ball of longing for great things I cannot name and therefore cannot offer; that I cannot work out what it is I am meant to be doing and that even if I do, it won’t be anything worth making a fuss over. These feelings are also ludicrous because why do I feel like it needs to be something that others would be able to see and to measure?
I want to be me with reckless abandon. Like the way God created his world : tucked away animals and plants in parts of the world no human eye would ever see, flung myriads of stars into space for sheer joy rather than for counting, made music and painting and poetry…
I want to give and receive love in that way – not in the tight-fisted manner of fear and self-protection, but with freedom and joy and reckless abandon
Now, I don’t mean that I want church to perfectly reflect Jesus (although I don’t mean that I don’t mean that) – I mean I want a church service to run perfectly. For me its one of those things that has both good points and bad points.
I feel quite strongly that when we ‘do’ a church service – worship, prayer,sermon, communion… – we are creating something, if you will. We are acting and enacting the beauty of the gospel – a sort of drama ‘in the round’ into which we invite people to participate and go away changed. For that, then, it is important, essential even, that there is a certain ‘slick’ to what is done in order that people can enter into the story without being distracted by clumsy direction or drunken players (metaphorically speaking!).
The danger is that it all becomes something like this…
When I studied theatre at University (ha ha – that sounds great, doesn’t it? It was 2 modules out of 18!) I discovered the term ‘suspension of disbelief‘ which is a principle that the audience in the theatre will willingly overlook the limits of the medium in order to enjoy and follow the show. For example – the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet – Juliet’s balcony is at best made out of wood or fibreglass and is just one wall rather than a whole building; those realities would somewhat spoil the romance of the scene. Or the final scene in ‘Juno and the Paycock‘ where Johnny get shot – they are not likely to actually shoot the actor nor even have real guns on stage – but if someone were to point that out, the tragedy would be somewhat compromised. See?
But in church, we’re not suspending disbelief, we’re engaging belief, we’re enacting belief, we’re revelling in what we believe. Part of what we believe is that we are NOT perfect and that is why the gospel is good – because it is God who is working in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13b). It is for this reason then, that church cannot and should not be “perfect” and in fact, if there is no room for us in our human imperfection, there is no room for the gospel and no room for God and therefore is not church at all, but rather just a play.
What do we do then? How do we console those who cringe at lengthy, garbled announcements? How do we heal those who go mad at out of tune music or non-responsive singing? How do we encourage those who would rather send their friends who are curious about church to the bigger, slicker ‘cooler’ church in the city?
Speaking of wanting to invite friends who are interested in church to our own church… What is our obsession with wanting ‘church’ to be cool? Let’s be honest, the music could be perfect, the sermon spot-on in terms of relevant, the people might even be the most welcoming people on earth but the essence of what church is is just weird! We can’t hide it! We’re completely counter-cultural – in a good way to us if we’re reflecting Jesus at all, but probably just plain weird to your average Joe on the street. How do we know that the very flaws in our church won’t be the very thing God uses to open our friends heart to Him?!
A question : How do we best honour God in re-enacting his story through church without pushing him out of it?
Its bad news when you have more blogs in your ‘drafts’ section than you do actually published so I think its about time I got back up on here for a rant.
I had a most unexpected chat today with a friend I hadn’t seen in a good while. This friend’s family circumstances are nothing short of heartcrushing. A daughter with profound learning difficulties and a husband who was diagnosed with MS a few years ago who has recently been diagnosed with epilepsy and even more recently severe osteoporosis (with the bones at the top of his spine crumbled to nearly nothing.) and bouts of ill health herself recently.
Often when I think about suffering on the individual/family level (as opposed to worldwide hunger etc), this family’s circumstances come to my mind. I question how and why God could let it all happen to one family? It is frightening the depth to which I am shaken to think that Certain People say that THAT would be God’s will. How the bleep can Certain People say that God gave her those circumstances? That God causes such suffering “for His glory”? Seriously… what kind of bleeping “glory” is that?
It makes me sick.
I asked my friend today how she reconciles all that she is facing with her faith in God, does she see Jesus in the midst of it all? Without a second of hesitation she replied “Oh yes… constantly.” No fake smile, no ‘God knows best’, no ‘there must be a reason’… In fact she claimed that even when she meets Jesus, the last thing she’s gonna care about is ‘reasons’. Her hold on the umbilical cord of her relationship with God is unbroken and unshaken even by circumstances of this life – this life which is significant but by no means the full story.
Her response fills me with hope and beauty and life and faith… is that not the glory? That in, through, above and beyond this world – this life – which is broken and f*cked up, God is… God is! He doesn’t need to inflictsuffering to show us what a nightmare things would be without him, how much better off we are or how powerful he is. We don’t need to claim that in order to be ‘good Christians’ or submit to that kind of masochistic “sovereignty” or to show how much we know things are a mess without him… We bloody well know he’s powerful and sovereign and that we need him because God is who He is!
Eugh. I know I’m hardly being very gracious or even coherent, but do you know how popular Certain People are becoming even though this is what they are saying about El Roi ‘The God who sees me’???
(I also wonder what Certain People would say about this family seeing as the wife is the main breadwinner because the husband can’t be?)
I think Certain People should just shut the hell up.