I see a clamour all around me; the need to justify our existence. The writer and playwright Alan Bennett captured it perfectly. He talked of one of his relatives who said this as they drove in the car:
‘Do you see that gasworks over there? That’s the second biggest gasworks in Europe. And I know the manager.’
Or I remember interviewing someone once, a salesperson, I forget about what, but I noticed his office wall covered with meaningless plaques about his achievements. Sad that his company felt the need to trade in these things; sadder that he displayed them.
If you are a normal healthy adult it is of course good and necessary to be productive. One of the reasons people fear retirement is because all that valid affirmation of their identity is taken away, replaced with the three simple letters ‘OAP’. This is perhaps why, for example in places like the BBC, old people hang onto their jobs, long after the spark of talent that got them the job in the first place has turned to smoke.
I think it is an art and a skill to learn how to be content with whatever prestige or affirmation the world has dealt you. In my case, none. So worth learning though. After living through days when I needed a mechanical hoist to drop me onto a toilet, I have to confess to frequent moments of upwelling delight in enjoying the simple things of life like family and friends and food and fellowship and worship; and as for using my own spark of talent, writing (in my own eyes at least) beautifully; and doing all this before and for God.
In my former life, before I was sick, I viewed the simple things merely as a platform to higher and greater achievements. Five years after serious illness, I return to this place and see it for the first time as the true location of happiness and worth.
Congratulations to writer Michele Guinness, whom I have not met or even read very much. Her story Chosen of being a Jewish person and meeting Christians (and eventually becoming one herself) has not been out of print in 35 years and is being re-issued by Lion in a new edition in October.
She still has loads to teach us, not least about eating. This is from an article in Together, magazine for Christian retailers, July/August 2018:
‘My first visit to a church was a shock to the system – so gloomy and dull. The congregation chanted “and make thy chosen people joyful” as if they were at a funeral … A greater understanding of Jesus’ worldview is liberating. It brings colour and richness, significance and celebration, wonder and joy to the Christian faith.
When I first became a Christian it seemed to me that around 50% of the New Testament was lost on Christians … I think it is more relevant than ever to encourage families to invite in the neighbours, single friends and children of all ages to celebrate at home together with story-telling and symbol, food and worship around the table.
Highlighted below is her book about celebrations, The Heavenly Party.
Just started Justin Welby’s new book ‘Reimagining Britain’. The introduction is intriguing:
‘British Values’: have come to mean ‘democcracy, the rule of law and respect for other’.
As a phrase they strike the wrong note somehow
These values are necessary (obviously) but not sufficient for the task of ‘re-imagining Britain’
‘I suspect, and argue here that there are values that come out of our common European history and Christian heritage, which have been tweaked and adapted in each country and culture.’
Given the amount being written these days, and the great rumble of the Brexquake shattering everything around us (my phrase), ‘this really is one of those rare moments when we have both the risk and the opportunity of rethinking what we should do and be as a country.’
A rare moment to change direction, by redigging some old wells. Super stuff. This is slow mission. Bring it on. Looking forward to the rest of the book and hoping to blog further about it.
I bought this book, counter-intuitively, by walking into Waterstones and handing over my credit card – full-price, hardback, from a high street store that pays UK tax. Then I went to a coffee shop to blog about it. Life is deeply, wonderfully good that I get to do these things.
But here’s a reference for those of us, me at the top of the list, who also happen to appreciate Amazon:
‘The internet and social media have trained my brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around.’
It is, he goes on, a behaviour explained by neuroscience. ‘When we learn something quick and new, we get a dopamine rush … the brain’s pleasure centres light up.’ So we flick though the internet, snacking as we go. Stuffing our faces with fast food, we malnourish ourselves.
It’s a deep loss. He quotes another researcher who says, ‘we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important.’
Perhaps he’s exaggerating his own case, but he also suggests a remedy:
‘I’ve conclude that a commitment to reading is an ongoing battle, somewhat like the battles against the seduction of internet pornography.’ We have a construct ‘a fortress of habits’ to buttress deep, good, thoughtful reading. Of deep, good, thoughtful books.