When the clouds return after the rain

Slow healing – 7

Injured Teddy Bear
A couple who struggle to have children conceive a baby. A person suffering flashbacks of a traffic accident is bothered by them no more. The latest scan reveals no sign of cancer. Some things submit to the quick, instant fix.

I’d love to hear from a GP on this but I have the feeling that many, perhaps most, medical conditions don’t fit this model. Perhaps some people are just wearing out. Others keep seeking appointments really because they are lonely and sad. (Just the other day I heard of a survey at one GP practice that found its most frequent frequent-flyers were not the eighty-year-olds but women in early middle age.)

Lots of people have multiple things wrong with them, so if instant healing was being offered, they’d have to keep rejoining the queue. This is in fact quite a good picture of how the NHS is currently structures.

Yet in the gospels people meet Jesus and all who even touch the edge of his cloak are healed.

What does that mean for those with multiple, long-term chronic conditions or who are sad and lonely or who are just wearing out? I guess doctors struggle with this stuff all the time.

Surely it means that healing is finding a way to thrive in any and every circumstance. This may be lit up on the way by some wonderful moments of physical or mental deliverance, thanks to doctors or prayer or both or more, but true healing is a wide, deep, slow turning over of the soil of our lives so that it produces a good harvest of joy and peace. It’s a transforming encounter, and an ongoing discipline and experience.

The neat thing is, I suspect such an inner transformation will itself be an ally in our fight against everything else. ‘All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast’ (Proverbs 15:15). We start to see ourselves as givers, not takers, receivers of grace not unfortunate victims, our lives defined by the goodness of God, not by our ailments. This isn’t easy or inevitable; but it isn’t impossible either.

My favourite slow mission habit of them all

Do stuff you love, with friends.

Group hugs

Nothing comes close to this, in my experience:

  1. Get a group together doing something you all love.
  2. Mix together people who have a faith with people who don’t.
  3. Er – that’s it.

I’ve seen this so many times.

  • My wife ran a youth group for 15 years. We did youthy things on Sunday nights, and on Mondays all had a meal together and a Bible study. We used to take them camping as well. We saw several generations of young people grow in faith (and some not) over the years.
  • Our church organizes a men’s walking weekend each year, coupled with a monthly breakfast meeting that involves bacon sandwiches. We do curries and film nights too. Quite a few guys have been scooped up by this over the years.
  • I go to a community choir in our village organized by the local Baptist church. Several people, thus exposed to Baptist threshing machinery, have also now joined the church.
  • I used to be part of a book club, a place for some fantastic discussions.
  • We have a board games evening every month, people of varying orientation and faith all geeking together and enjoying each other’s company.
  • Once I organized a bird-watching event at 5:00am one May morning. I put it in our parish magazine. In the more than 10 years I edited that magazine, it was the only thing we advertised where the resulting crowd actually blocked the road. At 5 am! (Actually this was a one-off and did not result in a group, but perhaps it should’ve.)

Slow mission in a nutshell.

10 reasons to eat the forbidden fruit

Why you should do what marketing people tell you

mangoThe Bible is light on detail about the conversation between Eve and the Serpent over the forbidden fruit. Happily I’ve been able to obtain further details of the Serpent’s offer.

  1. The forbidden fruit is 100% natural and organic with no artificial flavouring, colouring or preservatives.
  2. It’s locally sourced and picked fresh.
  3. It’s one of your five-a-day.
  4. It’s made for sharing.
  5. This is a strictly limited, once-in-a-lifetime offer. Other animals in the Garden of Eden could take it away at any time. Hurry!
  6. You deserve the best.
  7. Imagine the look on your husband’s face when you present him with this precious gift.
  8. It’s absolutely free (terms and conditions apply).
  9. If you are not completely satisfied you may return the forbidden fruit at any time. The knowledge of Good and Evil will be yours to keep whatever you decide.
  10. Take back control of your life!

The fractal God

It’s all the same to him

first fractalIf you find something that has a pattern and you crank up the magnification and see the same pattern, you’ve found a fractal — an object that’s self-similar at different scales.

Nature is full of them. Tree branches fork the same way when they are the size of trunks or the size of twigs. Rivers split the same way into deltas and streams and trickles. All broccoli is roughly fractal but there is an insanely fractal variety called Romanesco, ideal for feeding to mathematicians. Snowflakes are fractal.

‘Fractal’ is a helpful lens for looking at God and God-stuff. For example:

Parables of the Kingdom are fractal. When Christ taught about the Kingdom of God being like a mustard seed that grew to be a great plant, what was he talking about? A word that grips the heart? A change of behaviour that influences a community? A mass-movement that changes a continent? All of them. Parables are true at many different scales, because all are curated by the same God.

Faithfulness is fractal. God shepherds our whole lives, and our tiniest moments. It is, therefore, worth praying for something as big as a whole good life, and as fleeting as a car-parking space. Both are an appeal to the kindness of God, just at different scales.

His mercy is fractal. Of course he cares for the whole flock, but he also puts his coat on and heads out for the lost sheep; scale doesn’t come into it. He values the lost teddy bear as much as the lost Bible translation.

Transformation is fractal. The resurrection of Christ (which from our perspective happened at a single point in history and at a certain location) is the same sort of thing as the re-creation of the whole Universe. The essence is the same, the scale is different. And in our current setting, small-scale victories have a place in his purposes just as large-scale ones do.

His peace is fractal. Our anxieties exist at many different scales. Sometimes, for example, we suffer big and small losses at the same time. And sometimes God seems to deal with the wrong scale at the wrong time. Little gifts from him give testimony to his intricate touch; at the same time the big things, the things that really matter, seem to be all unfixed. It’s natural to resent this, but in another way we should welcome God mending the small things as a reminder that he also has the big things in hand.

His pleasure is fractal.  I don’t think God is more pleased by 25000 people worshipping in a tent as he is by one person’s act of quiet submission or patience. He possibly nudges the angels to point it out either way. ‘Look at my servant Job!’

Of course God works in fractal way, exercising the same attention with  the very small and the very great. Since he is infinite, all the scales probably look much the same to him.

What I learnt from nearly dying

Where in your sickness is the meeting place between really wanting and quietly knowing? Invest there.

Sunshine and shower...I’ve done time in Addenbrooke’s isolation ward in Cambridge (mysterious tropical diseases); Intensive Care (both Addenbrooke’s and nearby Papworth); and the high dependency unit at the Heart Hospital in London. And that’s just counting the wards with one-on-one, high intensity, or barrier nursing, not the ordinary wards for the merely tediously sick.

Between 2009 and 2013, I nearly died three times. I’ve met loads of people who have faced much worse, and I am humbled by their courage. What I have to say is nothing special. I felt panic and fear and I still do sometimes.

I did learn some stuff though.

  1. There is a sort of detachment as your life fades away. When my heart stopped and the crash team started electrocuting me, which hurts a lot, I remember still being me. There was still a me in there, despite the crowd around me, and the draining oxygen, and the deteriorating consciousness. Unscientific but interesting.
  2. It helps you sort out what you want. I have spent months convalescing, with my wife kindly trashing all my emails. It is wonderful. I realized that many parts of my career were not really worth the bother, and I’ve been able to refocus since.
  3. Take charge. I found I wanted just two things: my family, and my writing. I also found (a) I wanted them so much and (b) I was confident I was going to get them back, and see good days again.  At the time I had an illness that kills 70% of those it infects, even in Western Intensive Care units. This is worse than getting Ebola. Yet I was so sure I was going to live that I was determined not to die. I think that’s key in chronic illness. Not only, ‘what you really really want?‘ but ‘what are you confident you will receive?‘  Some people are desperate to live but don’t think they will (and they don’t). Other people are oddly confident in something — for example that will see their daughter’s graduation. And they do. Their faith heals them. What’s God got in his hands for you? Where in your sickness is the meeting place between really wanting and quietly knowing? Invest in that place, I would suggest. And if, deep down, you know you’re going to die, take charge of that too. Don’t let people soft-soap you.
  4. The love of others is astonishing. My family were like this, as were others, including some of the medical staff. I still find it hard to think about that; I do not have the capacity for it; like staring into the sun.
  5. My Christian faith helped. I am a Christian and in the happy position, irritating to many people, of being convinced that God loves me. In our dark times, I found myself exposed to the relentless goodness of God. He prepares a table for me in the midst of my enemies. Blessed are the broken. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. He is my friend and it will be all right. That’s a good lesson.

This isn’t meant to be a book plug but…

Six weeks after I left hospital I started writing this book, about how the Christian faith worked for me in good times and bad. To me, it is one of the best things I’ve written, it has sold a lot of copies–relatively–and people seem to have enjoyed it. It’s available in various formats and you do bulk orders too.

I have made it FREE to people with Kindles and other e-readers. Please help yourself, tell your friends, and if you want to help out, perhaps you could write a review.

 

I’ve also put up an audio version  free as a set of readings on YouTube.

At the smell of coffee

We Christians, especially us evangelicals, are very keen on programmes and courses. It sort-of suits our desire to package things. And we all of us like to receive pre-packaged things, whether it’s a ready meal or story. Life would be impossible without them, especially the Western consumer lifestyle.

I can’t help feeling something has been lost though.  This is God we are packaging, the Ultimately Unpackable. I suppose it’s good to always have something in the freezer that you can bring out when necessary, a gospel ready-meal, systematically covering the basics of Christian truth. A reader myself, I like a book, even though it’s a packaged summary, because it’s at least a start. (I’ve even written one for just that purpose.)

But the danger with a power-point-type presentation of the gospel is like every other power-point you’ve ever seen, it passes through the mind without ever being internalized. All the boxes are ticked, you’ve had the training, but in another way none of the boxes have been ticked. 

Jesus told stories which were totally incomplete accounts of the gospel. He probably had many reasons for this (not being stoned to death in a religious hothouse might have been one). But his stories are like the smell of coffee. They set you off on a hunt for the source.

Life is Short. Enjoy ur Coffee.

Does our love for the pre-packaged make us compartmentalized in  our thinking? Identikit in our practice? Unnatural in our growth? Interesting.

On why Atheists and Christians should be friends

And how mismatched are?)Here are some reasons:

1. We all have to share the planet and be good neighbours.

2. We all agree (I think) that humans are both wonderful and ‘born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.’ We disagree why. Is it because we are created good and fell from God (as the Christian account has it) or because our intelligence and reasoning skills sit atop a brain still programmed by (some) unhelpful routines that evolved millions of years ago? Is that even different? Either way, we have a shared space to explore celebrations and remedies.

3. We can enrich each other. I have to admit that Christians (with some notable exceptions like the Quakers and the Salvation Army) have not historically been the leading proponents of fighting for some things that are now commonly held as precious, such as gender equality. Christians tend to put up with things rather than upset them. Sometimes, radical, pioneering atheists force me to go back and ask fresh questions of the Bible. They challenge sloppy thinking. Which can only be good. Perhaps we Christians can return the favour, because I have to report that sometimes in my observation the champions of pure reason do trip on their own shoelaces, especially in the face of Christ.

4. I’d like to hear the best things that atheism has to offer; and like to offer the best things I know of Christ in return. So our debate is about our comparing our good points, more than dredging up our bad.

5. In all this, it is quite fun winding each other up. At least atheists are interested in God, which is more than I can say for most people in the West.

6. We can convert each other, which is a lot more possible in  a place of peaceful dialogue than trench warfare, lobbing chosen texts at each other. And this is a good thing, a free-market in ideas.

 

A book wot I wrote for atheists and Christians to enjoy.

Why God keeps you waiting

I am reading a series of devotional books by F B Meyer (1847 – 1929), one page on each chapter of the Bible.

From an entry on Psalm 62:

‘[Abraham] was left waiting till nature was spent… till all that knew him pitied him for clinging to an impossible dream. But as this great silence fell on him, the evidence of utter helplessness and despair, there arose within his soul an ever-accumulating faith in the power of God…

‘This is why God keeps you waiting.’

Slow mission values

Marwa_Morgan-It's_still_early_for_the_moon_to_rise
Marwa Morgan ‘It’s still early for the moon to rise’ @Flickr

‘Slow mission’ is about huge ambition–all things united under Christ–and tiny steps.

I contrast it with much talk and planning about ‘goals’ and ‘strategies’ which happens in the parts of church I inhabit, and which have an appearance of spirituality, but make me sometimes feel like I am in the Christian meat-processing industry.

Here’s a summary of slow mission values, as currently figured out by me:

Devoted. Centred on Christ as Saviour and Lord. Do we say to Christ, ‘Everything I do, I do it for you.’ Do we hear Christ saying the same thing back to us?

Belonging. We sign up, take part, dive in, identify, work with others, live with the compromises. Not for us a proud independence.

Respecting vocation. Where do ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger’ meet?1. Vocation is where God’s strokes of genius happen. That’s where we should focus our energies.

To do with goodness. Goodness in the world is like a tolling bell that can’t be silenced and that itself silences all arguments.

Observing seasons. ‘There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’2.The world will be OK even if we check out for a while. (Note: our families, however, won’t be.)

Into everything. We are multi-ethnic and interdependent. We like the handcrafted. We are interested in all humanity and in all that humanity is interested in. Wherever there’s truth, beauty, creativity, compassion, integrity, service, we want to be there too, investing and inventing. We don’t take to being shut out. Faith and everything mix.

Quite keen on common sense. We like to follow the evidence and stick to the facts. We like to critique opinions and prejudices. We don’t, however, argue with maths. Against our human nature, we try to listen to those we disagree with us. We’re not afraid of truth regardless of who brings it. We want to be learners rather than debaters.

Happy to write an unfinished symphony. Nothing gets completed this side of death and eternity.  What we do gets undone. That’s OK. Completeness is coming in God’s sweet time. ‘Now we only see a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.’3.

Comfortable with the broken and the provisional. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for right, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the laughed-at. This also implies a discomfort with the pat, the glib, the primped, the simplistic, the triumphalistic and the schlocky.

Refusing to be miserable. The Universe continues because of God’s zest for life, despite everything, and his insouciance that it will all probably work out somehow. In sorrows, wounds and in the inexplicable, we join God in his childlike faith.