don’t be scared

There is a piece of graffiti along the canal in the city that just says ‘Don’t be Scared‘. Don’t be scared is advice that I’ve always found hard to take heed of.
I’m scared of multiple things.

Men seem to either not get scared or else seem reluctant to vocalize the fact that they are fearful of things. Perhaps to admit that we are scared is to say that we don’t have a clue what to do and it puts us in a place where we have to admit that we need a miracle and that we’re not really in control of anything. We’re not sovereign, we’re not God. We don’t really like that.

Yet so many men seem to not stumble at the things that make me stumble that I sometimes wonder if  I’m a faulty model in that I don’t seem to work as reliably as the others. They don’t choke at the vital moments or go missing when needed. Or so it seems.


Perhaps that it why I’ve had this tune by Bell X1 in my head. It seems to vocalize some of the fear of living that I feel.

Will it be a fireball from the sky?
Or will we all take to the bed
Laid low by a new pox?
Or will the wrong guy get the codes?

Whose arms will I seek?
Whose eyes would I meet in the final throws
And say it was good to be human?
To be a human with you here

The world is a scary place and then end will be nigh some time. We can’t keep on running from it. Whose arms will I seek? Whose eyes would I meet in the final throws?

seal

The walk home along the canal brought someone I haven’t seen for year or more, the seal. I rummaged around in my bag for the camera as I had to capture him (why  exactly did I have to capture him on camera?) and by the time I had it switched on I had lost him, just a few grainy out of focus shots and a video of the waves.

Walking home I was reminded of  a Wendell Berry poem I’d read last night.
It has been a tough week with things that have kept me a awake at night. News of family friend in hospital far from home and  family, fear and panic, far from peace.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry
seal

printing out a funeral

I’m printing out the funeral
and it isn’t right

it isn’t right at all

for you could print out many funerals
have them ready to go
but what could you really say?
what could you really say?
to a grief-broken family

the printer stops
their world stops

think of the heart broken ones
 facing the grave in the morning
and the minister who must also face the grave
and witness to grace
I don’t envy her task
I feel for the family
God help them all

the stretcher

How much should you tell your computer? Tonight I don’t care.

Today was not a good day.  I don’t want life to be like this, but it is. It just is.

My girl is upstairs waiting for sleep to come, I know she is hurting, hurting so bad and what can I do? I can do nothing except what I usually do, be me stubborn and angry or angry and stubborn in the wrong way about things I can’t control, probably tilting at windmills, big wind generating windmills that don’t actually generate electricity or spoil the countryside or use more energy to make than they produce in their entire lifetime and there is always something isn’t there?

There was an old man who lived a few houses down.
He walked slowly along the footpath, I assumed on his way to the pub each day. In my head he was called Jim, hop along Jim.  He was lonely, or looked lonely. I knew he was lonely.

So what did I do?
I did nothing.  As usual I did nothing.

‘and at once I knew I was not magnificent’


The police stood outside his house today, then the white overcoats and face mask and on the way back from the shops a stretcher. I didn’t look. H___ wanted me to ask, but I didn’t.

As usual I did nothing. So I don’t know. But I suspect and that fills me with sadness. He was so lonely. Did he have any family?
Worse, you knew this or guessed this and what did you do?

Then there is THE ISSUE.
It’s there.
It can’t be ignored. And Jesus  and God and the Holy Spirit it’s killing us so can you cut me a bit of slack? Won’t us give us a break?

That’s unless of course you don’t really exist because it’s at times like this that it just seems so lonely and silent that I just can’t see it myself.  I tried to imagine you standing in the corner of the bedroom last week, what you actually might have looked like. I couldn’t do it. It was an Obi Wan Kenobi type hologram, a wisp of mist in the corner when what you want is a real and physical, for real flesh and blood, suffering yet risen reality. What I got was a shady corner of my imagination.

Or  a book, or books and letters and versions and exegesis and preachers and church on a Sunday morning with a pipe organ and red hymn book, blue ‘Glory to God’ and ‘The Source’ and cups of instant coffee in a soul less church hall with uncomfortable looking middle class people and  mention (probably) of The Queen’s Jubilee.

This is what we get. Jesus, it’s hard to believe.

How much can you tell the computer?

This much. And there’s more. But nobody will care.  It’s just lonely old men and the money you didn’t earn because you are you and there is no job that is good enough for you or suitable for you and you won’t go and work the production line of Moy Park chicken or something (because you’re busy tilting at big wind generating windmills or something)  and the work you do do is not valued as work because it’s not paid and competition and better train harder or ask the right questions and answer to prove that you are the most suitable person for the opening.

There is the money you forgot to put in the bank to pay for the rent that you remember about on a Saturday night on a special Bank Holiday weekend meaning that you will probably be charged by greedy banker, or something like that.  So you can work hard and still not get paid.

Thing is, stretchers and old men, banks, THE ISSUE, church of clay feet,me being me, entropy is not what I want defining and embittering me, or scaring me,  I don’t want that.

Miracle please…stretcher me through a hole in roof, I can’t do it myself.

 

married to the minister No.5 -‘You Gotta Walk that Lonesome Valley’

When you’re a minister in a large congregation death, pain and suffering are unavoidable.
Obviously death, pain and suffering is unavoidable full stop as ‘You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley’

In a church the minister is a sort of reference point for people in their pain. Marriage break-ups, cancers, funerals, job loss, ill health, addictions, abuse, adultery, the list goes on and on. This is one of the things that church should be doing, binding up wounds and proclaiming that the kingdom of dark doesn’t get the final word.

H____ (like most ministers) spends a good portion of her week visiting people and often these visits are to people going through hard times, very hard times.

So whenever H___ comes home and I say “You OK?’ and she sighs and mentions that she has been visiting someone (usually nameless) who is going through some type of pain experience
a) you wonder how do they carry around so much pain from different sources and does the tidal wave ever relent?
I often wonder the same about counselors and social workers. Part of you marvels, part of you wonders.

b) you can get depressed or dragged down because you are only too aware that pain and death are out there. And of course that plays on your mind.
Every minor ailment could be first sign of the disease that plunges your life into tragedy or pain. Or pain and disease are waiting to pounce on those you love. ‘Have I got a tooth ache or is it a brain tumor like so and so had? He only thought he had a toothache but the found a etc etc instead and he was dead with a month…‘ etc

The reality is that we can’t avoid these things, but if you hear about them day after day (whether first hand or from hearsay) the darkness out there seems over-whelming. Add to that the things you might hear on the news report and you can get scared and wither away from life.

I don’t want to wither away from life. Simone Felice was on the Bob Harris radio show the other night talking about having open heart surgery and how it has brought clarity to his life. Bob asks him (about 2.26mins in) how this experience has effected his art and Felice says
‘I sing every song as if it was my last night on earth and I’ll try to wake up every morning and feel like it’s my first morning on earth – you know So just trying to live for the moment and give praise for every breath…’

Those words seem like wise advice and of course we believe that there is redemption from the kingdom of death, which is the good news (or else it is nothing at all)

Still, if you’re naturally melancholic, partial to a bit depression or pessimism it can wear you down sometimes.

rainbow at easter

Today has been a strange day.
It’s the day when Christians gather to celebrate the rising and victory of Jesus over the grave, a day for celebration if ever there is a day to celebrate for a Christian.

Yet to put it simply, life still feels shit, the same as it did a few days before, in fact much blacker and horrible than I’ve had in a while. It’s a day of lead feet and an awareness of how ‘off target’ I’ve been with so much of my life, of confusing strength with being proud, of feeling let down by God while being very aware that I’m a let down as well.
In other words, I’m feeling crap and anything like celebrating despite it being Easter Sunday.

It’s hard. But you probably don’t me to tell you that as you’ll know that yourself, life is hard. This was going to turn into  another post about struggles and wrestling but I briefly  looked up from the computer and could see the tail of the rainbow out the study window. Some may put that down as a coincidence, but not me.
It happens on occasions that God whispers to me through creation, rainbows from windows and buzzards at the exact time I would need to see a buzzard, creepy crows and blackbird nests in the garden.

So yes, life is hard and I don’t feel like celebrating much, I often can’t see how the resurrection is going to help me find a job this week, or be a better husband, or why church is like grinding teeth sometimes or why the good news doesn’t seem very much like good news but today I’ll cling to the rainbow out the window, because it’s a whisper in the dark of something bigger, or perhaps it’s creation celebrating it’s future redemption and restoration and telling me it’s all going to be alright.

fear and death in the north

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been fairly disillusioned by Christianity in recent years and that the disillusion doesn’t seem to be shifting anywhere fast.

And as I’ve mentioned before that is an unsettling place to be when you’re married to someone who is training t0 be a minister in a church.
There are just so many overlaps and confusions that it seems to become a mire that is impossible to escape sometimes.

On top of that there is an extra  layer of mire – Northern Irish, evangelical, Presbyterian, cultural baggage mire that I’m also having to wade through.

When I first lived in Northern Ireland I always  had my doubts but they where simply overwhelmed by the size my Christian bubble.  Any doubts I had got forgotten about in the rush to do church stuff or hang out with my Christian friends.
There was a hint of something different during my student days, especially around Queen’s  CU with talk about grace and about not wearing masks but it wasn’t until I moved down to Dublin in 2000 that I can say I experienced something approaching grace in practice as well as theory.

I experienced something approaching freedom in a spiritual sense and also culturally. I had never enjoyed Belfast as a city but always loved Dublin. Happy where the rainy afternoons spent in Bewley’s by the fireplace drinking tea and eating a rock bun.  It was an amazing time to be in Dublin, so many different cultures and languages on the 66A into town, the IFI showing foreign films, music and good friends.
In the churches/ places I worked I experienced a different sort of community and most of all I knew that I was accepted no matter what happened.
A simple way to put it was that it felt like home to me. A different sort of home, but in a really good way.

That’s not to say that I still didn’t struggle with Christianity or church, but the thing was that I felt that I was accepted and given space to wrestle with God without any expectation that I had to hit a certain standard or wear a mask. There was freedom to wrestle with stuff, to wrestle with God and that was freeing.

Fast forward to my current situation and that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t feel that freedom to wrestle and worst of all there seems to be a merry-go-round of Christianity that I am expected to jump on which is made even worst by being married to a minister who is near to finishing up.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

There are many reasons I have found it hard to fit in and don’t feel as free or as joyful, that Christianity is good news.
My more holy, biblical friends might be tutting and saying that it’s not our job to fit into  church or to be so individualistic, that the church is not a consumer choice and that we can’t be shopping around for the perfect church as there are none but I’m just about hanging in there with any faith I have so I’m not going to get too theological about things.|

There is the fear, life weakening fear that seems to hang over our churches and sneak about the pews up hear. Fear is like damp mist that drains any life out of so many people I see and has wrecked havoc with me and members or my extended family. Fear is all over the place, and fears seems to lead to control and abuse of power.
Or rather control seems to play into the hands of fear. Much of the religion I grew up with and have been witnessing again seems to be controlling things, about getting as many disembodied floaty souls to heaven as possible.
And this meant that you shouldn’t piss of the God who could send you to the flames of hell for all eternity, and the best chance of achieving that was to do what the minister said as he was the professional who understood what God wanted us to do the best.

Fear is coupled with death, particularly the fear of death and suffering. I honestly think this is the main problem with the religion I grew up with, this fear of death and of suffering and pain and of not hearing any or very little good news about how death is actually defeated.
Of course there is great suffering and pain in Dublin but up here the population seems significantly more obsessed with death.

So if there are two issues that I would love to hear more good news about it would be those two, the FEAR and DEATH. Those are the main components of the mire that has been bogging me down.

good God, what have you done?

 

I sat in the SERC Lisburn campus gazing out onto the  street.
There was a man climbing scaffolding three stories high in a building opposite while people parked their cars on the street. Students walked past the window in groups of 2 or 3.

I had images in my head. The man on the third floor swept away, the cars swept away like corks in a river of mud. The windows of the canteen breaking, the waters engulfed everything.

Earlier that morning I saw a picture in a newspaper of a boat, a huge boat sitting at rest on top of  a two story building. The image couldn’t help but remind me off the story of Noah when the ark comes to rest on Mt. Arafat.I kept thinking of the story of the rainbow and how it was a promise that God would never destroy the world again with floodwater. I was wondering if God was showing any rainbows over the coast of Japan that morning.

It also sparked  memories of  that kids song we used to sing at church.

‘The Lord said to Noah
‘There’s gonna be a floody, floody
Get those child out of the muddy…

So rise and shine and give God the glory ‘

It jarred with me. The image’s in the paper of Japanese towns flattened, completely flattened by mud. Reports of waves 33ft tall sweeping inland for miles on end and children lying dead in the mud. Rise and shine and give God the glory eh?

After reading those reports, seeing the pictures why would you want to ”rise and shine and give God the glory?’
There is one image in particular of a car  that spots the tsunami approach and starts to panic. Then the wave sweeps over him. Just like that.

With thousands and thousands dead, half a million homeless, stricken nuclear power plants smouldering and deadly, aftershocks and now freezing weather and snow setting in the lady on the BBC News report has just said the words, or words to the effect of..

‘Nature seems in no mood to give these people a break’

Except if you come at things from what I’ve been told in church about God and Jesus since I was a child to now as an adult God is all powerful isn’t He? Many of the Psalms, the prophets or the end of Job all mention God’s mastery over everything. Sovereign isn’t He? And you don’t question his authority or  goodness.

There sometimes is a feeling that the God of the Old Testament is a harsh, unforgiving autocrat but that all changed in the New Testament with Jesus. How could you argue about the goodness of Jesus, Jesus who didn’t say a word when mistreated and nailed to the cross for our sins.

But even the wind and waves obey Jesus don’t they?

So from a Christian point of view the lady on the BBC News report is completely wrong. It’s not ‘nature’ giving these people a bad deal, its somehow a sovereign God/Jesus/Holy Spirit who is  in control and not giving these people a break.

But how does a God who is also meant to be perfectly loving work that one? How can you cause people suffering for no apparent reason?

This same Jesus who said ‘suffer the little children to come unto me’, the same one Christian’s waddle of on Sunday mornings to worship at church is the same Jesus who is God and sovereign, is somehow involved in the Japanese earthquake and the Haiti earthquake.

I don’t know what to make of it all. Faith. Death. God. Suffering. Love?

 

 

 

Of Gods and Men (and hope?)

H_____ really wanted to go to the cinema on New Year’s Eve and the film that she really wanted to see was ‘Of Gods and Men‘. I wasn’t overly keen to see it as it seemed a bit of  a downer for what is traditionally a day that doesn’t need any extra help to be a downer.
But it was either that or have a domestic downer around the streets of Dublin. So away to the cinema we went.

Coming out of The Lighthouse after watching the film I felt a strange sense of despair. It was a very well crafted film (based on  true story), dealing with faith and Christian suffering in a realistic way. I loved the scenes of the brothers farming the land, going to the market, going about their daily business of housekeeping and the good Christ like lives they lived day in, day out in the small rural village in Algeria.

Yet the final scene of the film, where these ordinary, good Christian men walk and trudge in  a line silently before disappearing into the mist and snow of an African mountain filled me with emptiness and left me despairing.
I don’t know how to explain it except its like they followed Jesus in life and to the cross and died, but where is the good news at the end?

It would be like watching  a very well made, thoughtful and beautiful film about Jesus and the disciples and the final scene of the movie was a beautifully shot image of Jesus being marched up Calvary to be executed then the credits rolling.
I’m not one for happy endings, easy answers and Sunday School but if the best we can aim for in death is a walking into some  beautiful, cold and silent Christmas card scene after struggling and living as best we could  in our community it doesn’t give me any sort of peace or hope.
What about a Promised Land, resurrection and good news?
Where was the hope?