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?
The €3 I spent in Galway on an old Penguin copy of ‘How Green was My Valley‘ a few weeks back was probably the best bargain of the year so far. I normally find it hard to get through longer novels but eventually got through this one, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s got themes I feel I can relate to (unlike The Great Gatsby to pick a current example).
One of the themes that crops up throughout the book is the theme of religion, especially in relation to the local chapel, deacons and minister Mr Gruffydd. Although my experience of church going in Co Tyrone was much less severe, I could relate to certain exchanges in the book such as this one between the narrator of the story, Huw Morgan and Mr Gruffydd. Still to this day I find it hard to shake the image of people wearing suits or the smell of fear and Hell.
‘You have done much,’ I said, with a loud voice, to try and make up for wants of words just before. ‘Chapel, and sick, and everything, sir.’
‘And everything,’ he said, and laughed. ‘Thank you, Huw. Eh, dear. I thought when I was a young man that I would conquer the world with truth. I thought I would lead an army greater than Alexander ever dreamed of, not to conquer nations, but to liberate mankind. With truth. With the golden sound of the Word. But only a few of them heard the trumpet. Only a few understood. The rest of them put on black and sat in Chapel.’
‘Is it wrong to do that, then, Mr Gruffydd?’ I asked him, and surprised out of voice.
‘Why do you go to Chapel, Huw?’ he asked me, still going on with his work.
‘Because,’ I said, and then I stopped. Why, indeed.
‘Yes,’ he said, and smiling. ‘Because you want to come? Because you like coming? Because your mother and father come? Because your friends are there? Because it is proper to do on a Sunday? Because there is nothing else to do? Because you like the singing? To hear me preach? Or because you would fear a visitation of fire during the week if you stayed away? Are you brought by fear or love?’
‘I am a but surprised, sir,’ I said, and indeed I was dry with it.
‘The questioning of habit is fruitful of surprise, ‘Mr Gruffydd said. Would you fear a bolt of fire on your head, or some other dire punishment if you stayed away from Chapel without permission?
‘I would a bit, sir, I think,’ I said.
‘So would most of them,’ Mr Gruffydd said. ‘So they are brought to dress in black and flock to Chapel through fear. Horrible, superstitious fear. The vengeance of the Lord. The justice of God. They forget the love of Jesus Christ. They disregard his sacrifice. Death, fear, flames, horror, and black clothes’
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
In many ways this is tensest time of the week for me, that time just before church when I decide to go, or that I should go or sometimes force myself to go. Some weeks I just don’t go.
No amount of deoderizing will stop the cold sweat I will get from going to church, especially if H___ is leading. It is always that heavy sweat as well.
Why the sweat?
It’s the thought of the people, of the uncomfortable interactions with strangers and the more familiar, the thought of chats afterwards with thos who might say
‘So any joy on the job front?’ or ‘So are you off anywhere nice on holiday?’ etc. etc.
Perhaps it is because I feel extra exposed being married to one of the ministers, the person who has been leading the service and preaching the sermon, the person who is brought into the whole church equation.
Perhaps it is also because church halls are the least uncomfortable, inhospitable spaces I be in each week. The spaces we worship in are all the wrong colours , the seating uncomfortable and too close for someone who likes his own space and feels claustrophobic.
The way I can’t sit beside my wife like most other people who go to church but have to watch her from afar.
My holy friends have become increasingly righteous is saying ‘Well that’s the beauty of the church community, you can’t choose your family members, you have to love those people who you would not naturally gravitate towards…’
but the tense, cotton cutting sweat has little to do with that.
Anyway, I should get ready. The Perfect Space by The Avett Brothers is what comes to mind.
‘I wanna have friends that I can trust,
that love me for the man I’ve become not the man I was.
I wanna have friends that will let me be
all alone when being alone is all that I need.
I wanna fit in to the perfect space,
feel natural and safe in a volatile place.
And I wanna grow old without the pain,
give my body back to the earth and not complain.‘
Forgive me for what I am about to blog (I know not what I do) but I can’t sleep and the sky has brightened up in that gunmetal grey, Ulster way and here I am blogging at 4.37am ( which is guaranteed to lead to an mess of a post ) possibly with things I don’t really mean or sweeping statements that I may regret writing.
Anyway, I’ve thoughts on my mind.
Today I was thinking that if I loose my faith it’s probably going to be one of two things that push me over the edge.
Suffering and pain, especially the silence of God in suffering and pain.But I expected that to be challenge.
Number two. What feels like the ‘unworkability’ of Jesus’ commands in day- to-day life.
I had expected the first threat, the silence and feeling that God wasn’t there or was just a phantom.
But the idea that it might be the voice of God that pushes me over the edge is something that I’d never considered.
It may be the thing that wears me down because unbearable suffering and sorrow doesn’t happen every day,
but the day-to-day, (tomorrow morning when I wake up for example) does happen everyday, and it’s in that day-to-day that I’m expected to live life,
and it is also in the day-to-day that a Christian is supposed to be living out commands such
‘..turn the other cheek‘
or ‘..give him your cloak as well‘
or ‘do to others what you would have them do to you‘. …everyday.
A Christian is called to follow Jesus.
How is a man supposed to mesh this sort of crazy counter-cultural stuff in the dog eat world streets of Lisburn City?
How a Christian is supposed function in this panicking, worried and fearful atmosphere without compromising and keeping his holy bits for Sunday morning?
Every step seems to scream that life is a competition.
Well not every step, but large and very important segments of life seem based on competition such as the job market.
(Ah, another duel at dawn with my old arch-nemesis ‘the job market’.)
I’m looking for a job at the moment, or paid employment .
But the only way I can effectively obtain a job is by getting more competitive, by sprucing up my cv and applying for jobs and hoping that I fill in my application form better than someone else,
or that I am more eloquent in an interview,
of competing and hoping that I am a
stronger ‘more suitable’ candidate that someone else.
My hope is to be more alert in spotting an opening or opportunity than someone else and force my way through the merest c rack, thereby proving my worthiness.
Or else what?
Just sit here and hope for a surprise phone call,
or for some kindly benefactor,
or to have a chance conversation with Ireland’s only urban farmer who offers me a chance to learn the trade on the spot,
or to try and risk it on some hair brained scheme?
No,that won’t work, life doesn’t work like that. You have to earn it and prove that you are worthy and better, a hard worker. Don’t sitting on your arse, get out there and show the world what you are made off.
There might be a job in a very caring charity doing very caring work,
yet you have to compete for that position and prove that you would be a more caring person than someone else. You have to trample and gobble to serve.
Or to become a minister or pastor and tell people about God’s grace and unmerited favour that you can’t earn, (‘Only by grace can we enter etc.’) you must pass exams to prove that you can do it and earn your way in.
So only by qualifications and high enough marks can you enter, only by academic gifts can you stand.
But is Christianity compatible with competition and competing?
Is it not something much closer to community and co-operation, with sharing and grace, with gift and service?
For example I might see a job opening and would like that job to earn some money and go on holiday, pay the rent, learn to drive.
But at the same time I also know that x other people would like that job as well so that they can go on holiday, buy the kids Christmas presents, get some dignity from paid employment etc. and that makes things difficult.
So what do I do if I am to take that whole ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you‘ command literally, that whole bit about loving your neighbour as yourself seriously?
It almost suggests that I should go into the interview with a view to giving up my rights to the job. I might be equally well qualified, even more qualifed but if I am following a God who gave up his rights and majesty does that have implications for job hunting.
Or are there different levels of neighbour?
Like is it OK to compete and strive and fight and trample over your neighbour if you are doing it for the sake of your family?
To even voice that seems dodgy, the perceived wisdom is that of course you should do anything to protect and look after your loved ones, it’s your responsibility to provide. But who are our loved ones? Who is your brother, who is your mother?
I found this article earlier on and it quotes from someone called Donald Hagner
“Love for one’s neighbour means acting towards others with their good, their well-being, their fulfillment, as the primary motivation and goal of our deeds”
I thought it might be the silence of God that would send me over the edge,but it might just as easily be the voice of God, the trying to build your house on the rock and not the sand.
Although he was writing about Gandhi and pacifism George Orwell expressed something of the practicality of Christianity in the real world.
‘In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: ‘What about the Jews?Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?’ I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question…’
It’s all very well having lofty ideals but how do you propose it working in real life?
Jesus, it’s all very well saying turn the other cheek or do unto others but how do you propose it working in real life?